We travel in third class AC this morning. Third class means, there are three beds on each side attached to the wall – Ben & I have a bed each. We can either choose to sit on the lower bed, which can be transformed into seats, for the entire journey, as we have done previously – but this morning we are tired. We take out the freshly washed linen out of the paper bags and make our beds to have a nap (***travelling by train in India is highly recommended, by the way!).
I decide to climb onto the middle berth and tuck myself in, immediately drifting off into sleep. Today there are no women around and I do feel a bit uncomfortable about all the men around me. But Ben is there. Apart from the occasional stare, there is not much to be annoyed by. After a good for hours we slowly roll into Jodhpur – the blue city. I have slept all the way through.
Already accustomed to our routine, Ben and I head to the pre-pay taxi booth, hop into a Tuk Tuk and drive to Kesar Heritage Guesthouse our home for the next 4 nights. Guddu, the owner, greets us with enthusiasm and we feel really comfortable from the start. We then wander up to the rooftop where we spend pretty much the entire day – the atmosphere is fantastic – today, we relax and lounge – nothing else. The view from up here is breath-taking. Everythings is blue!
Ben, Guddu and I have a good chat over a cup of freshly brewed Masala tea. He tells us that he is a Brahmin – the highest caste in Hindu culture– and his family’s ancestors were once advisors to the King.
“So I guess we have to bow in front of you?” and he starts laughing.
He is the kind of person who radiates such positivity, you can’t help but feel comfortable around him. It must be an Indian trait, as I think back to Hemlata. Guddu is an attractive, well-groomed 26 year-old who has set up this guesthouse business. He has been working in a hotel for the last ten years (since he is 16 basically) and has a breadth of experience. This is also where he learnt to speak English which is almost flawless and the best I have heard on our trip so far.
“Are you married?” I ask keeping to my tradition of asking direct questions within minutes of knowing someone. “Not yet” he grins “but my family will choose a bride for me soon”. This prompts Ben and me to ask a whole lot of questions. Guddu explains “even if I came home with a Brahman woman, the answer would still be No. My father needs to choose my future wife – this is how it has been done for centuries. Families in Jodhpur and in many parts of India are still very traditional. An exception was only done for my brother. His was a Love marriage”.
As we sit there on our pillows on the floor, I feel like a little girl who is being told a bed-time story. Only that this is reality not a fairytale. Arranged marriages – a concept entirely foreign to us Westerners! As he explains that he has never been in love and that he will have to marry who has been selected for him, I feel very sad. I look down on and have to fight my tears back. The fact that there are people in this world who will never be allowed to experience the freedom of being allowed to choose to marry who they want out of love, makes my heart bleed.
Guddu continues “there is the odd occasion when some decide to elope but they can never return back to their families and many of these love marriages have resulted in suicide. The pressure is too big. And life away from our families is hard and almost impossible. We loose everything. You have to choose wisely. And almost all of us choose our family over love”. My mouth starts to drop and my eyes are wide open and I fall into a stare. I can’t quite believe what I’m hearing. Part of me hopes he will say “I was just joking” and we all laugh.
It ain’t happening. Love marriages are a big No-Go. Guddu is not kidding.
As so many times in India, like when the little boy stole the orange from the vendor’s cart, I feel like I’m in a movie.
Guddu’s brother was allowed to marry out of love. But only because he’s got a very bad leg and cannot get a decent job (Guddu’s words). He met his love on Facebook (!) and kept their relationship a secret for six years…During that time they only saw each other 7 times. And every time he went to Jaipur, he lied to his family: he would have to go there for an exam, for instance, or he would make up some other story that seemed somehow believable.
A Brahmin herself, was eventually visited by his father who actually liked her (lucky for them, because if he didn’t, the already un-orthodox way of selecting a future wife would have been crushed soon enough by the head of the family who has the ultimate say in this matter). He gave them their blessing “but only because of the leg – he has polio – he is lucky to find a wife at all” according to their Dad.
Afterwards he sat his other three sons in front of him, pointed towards their older brother and said: “Don’t think that this will be possible for you! It will not!” Guddu is not sad, however. He doesn’t know anything else. And so far he has never been in love – so he doesn’t know what he is missing. I admire how relaxed he is about it. He sits there quite content as if he is relieved that he does not have to worry about having to find a wife. “One morning I will wake up and they will show me a photo of my future wife on their phone. And I will reply ‘Oh ok. She is nice I guess’ and that will be it” he starts laughing, we laugh with him whilst shaking our heads.
“This must be quite strange for you guys” he says with a big grin on his face. But the way he says it, sounds almost as if he feels a bit sorry for us. He explains that he is already past his ‘marriage expiration date’. A Brahmin man marries when he is 23 or 24. He was allowed to negotiate the age to get married with his father by convincing the old man that he still wants to build up his business and make more money before settling down.
Once he is married, which will happen in the next 2-3 years, he won’t be able to continue the guesthouse – nor smoke in secret on the rooftop for that matter. Then he will be a husband and father which comes with its own responsibilities. As I look around at this beautiful rooftop with its mosaic floor and the hand-made lanterns, I cannot help but feel sad that this place won’t be receiving guests from all over the world anymore.
Surely, his wife could help him run the place? But no, of course, she will be a wife and mother – which comes with its own duties. I think back of Hemlata: I somehow get the feeling her life will turn out very differently. She did not seem like the type of woman who would let herself be married to some stranger. I chuckle as I think of her reaction when we stopped at the train station this morning and an Indian man stared at her with disgust. Her response: A big grin on her face and in English she says “Oh, hello there” with a cheeky attitude before walking away chin held up high. What a feisty woman!
As we lounge around enjoying a delicious Rabodi for lunch, made entirely out of yoghurt, Guddu walks towards us and shows us the book in his hands. “This was written by my sister-in-law, you know my brother’s wife who got married out of love. She has written a book about their story”.
It’s not hard to guess what I will be doing over the next days.
Have you ever had conversations with a localthat provoked emotions within you? I would love to hear your stories in the comment section below!