This is the story of a lady, a fellow traveller, my wife, Mary and I, came across on our own travels across Rajasthan. She was making her way from Gujarat and on to who knows where. We have never encountered her since, but her story is etched forever on our memories and worth the sharing.
Having arrived in Gujarat at some obscure destination she found herself hustled and bustled by beggars, as is the norm in India, as well as hordes of children clamouring for ‘bom-boms’. Shaking them off eventually, she went in search of a hotel and found herself approached by an Indian gentleman who, having salaamed greetings, invited her to accompany him to stay at his house – let’s call him Mr. Singh for convenience. “My family and I would be greatly honoured.” He stood there with a genuine and honest smile on his face. Why not, she thought. Funds were running low and it would be a welcome opportunity to experience the local cuisine, hospitality, and true Indian culture up close. “I will be happy to accept your gracious offer,’ she told him. A rickshaw was summoned and, to her relief, her heavy luggage heaved up on the seat between them. And so, they lurched off into the throng of traffic. On arrival at his residence, Mr. Singh, beaming with pride, introduced her to his wife and several children. He rubbed his hands together in happiness and satisfaction, his white teeth flashing in the sunlight. “Perhaps you would like to wash before dinner?” Since she had travelled a long way through baking heat and cloying dust, the suggestion was welcomed with delight. She followed him down a corridor into a small concrete room with small windows set high in the wall. At the far end of the room stood a barrel of water, surrounded by several coconut shell cups. “Help yourself,” he invited pointing to the barrel. Scarcely able to wait, she locked the door behind him, fumbled her bottle of shampoo out of her luggage and lowered herself gingerly into the barrel. The water was cool, blissfully so, after the intense heat outside. She lathered her hair, dunked her head under the water, scrubbed and rubbed until she began to feel human again. She was almost finished when a knock sounded on the door. “The food is almost ready, will you be long?” Reluctantly, she began to climb out of the barrel. “No. No. Just a few more minutes.” She looked about for a towel, but finding none dabbed herself dry with her discarded t-shirt. But really, she thought, the opportunity to wash a few of her things was too good to miss, and so she set about rinsing out her smalls and a couple of spare t-shirts.
When she emerged, Mr Singh and his family stood smiling. “You enjoyed your wash, yes?”
She beamed her response. “Absolutely. The water was so refreshing, and I hope you don’t mind, but I took the opportunity to wash some of my dirty clothes in the barrel too.”
Mr Singh and his family paled beneath their collective tans. Their eyes widened in shock and horror. His voice trembling, he informed her that the barrel of water was the family’s water supply for one whole month. One was not supposed to climb in, but simply to use the coconut shells as a ladle.
Had there been a convenient corner handy, our travelling acquaintance maintained, she would happily have crawled in there and died on the spot.
The moral of this story – all good deeds will be duly punished – as Mr Singh found to his cost!