Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sweet Honeycomb Daze


Upon returning to Meghwalon ki Dhani the next day, Dinesh did not appear to have moved an inch since I had seen him last. “Benjamin, you come to my home,” he said in his shy yet endearingly assertive manner. We walked slowly down the village’s lone strip of road. On either side of the street lay mountainous piles of roughly cut sandstone, waiting to be further chiseled and shipped off to Jodhpur in tractor-drawn trailers. Faces peaked around doorways and through open air window sills, glaring with suspicious concern at the curious looking duo led by an entourage of fresh faced children. A man busy repairing a thatched roof stopped and stared as we passed by. I tipped the brim of my straw hat in his direction causing him to wiggle his head in unrestrained excitement.


We entered Dinesh’s home through the low front doorway. As I stooped to squeeze my way in, he turned, saying unapologetically, “we are very poor.” “It is very lovely,” I told him, hoping that his grasp of English was not good enough to detect my lie. In the dim light of the hut I could make out the silhouette of a woman tending a twig fire on the dusty floor. “Sit,” Dinesh motioned to me as the woman sprung to fetch a tattered, woven cot. One of the children presented me with a platter of red vermilion powder and golden chunks of dried honeycomb. She dipped her bony index finger into the vermilion and pressed it firmly between my eyebrows. She then pointed at the honey and instructively brought her hand to her mouth. I ate the smallest piece possible, wary of the countless hours of work that would have been required to purchase what was to me just a small delicacy.

Dinesh and I sat there talking for two hours, all the while surrounded by mesmerized children. We talked about my country, and his. He spoke of his aspiration to become a tour guide at the Taj Mahal. He was fascinated by what he called “love marriages,” and pressed me to tell him about the “friendships” I had experienced with American women. I declined; “friendships with women aren’t what they’re cracked up to be,” I said, lying to him for the second time. Before walking back to the Veerni field team he gave me a handmade card that he had decorated with colorful paisley patterns and drawings of flowers. I patiently watched as he laboriously wrote a personalized note on the card’s centerfold:

"My dear friend Benjamin,
I am glad to meet you. I wish to you that you are again time come to my village.

Before making it more than twenty meters from Dinesh’s house, I was called over by an old man who was sitting on the single step in front of his hut. He cleared a place for me to sit, hurriedly brushing away grain seeds and bidi ash with the back of his hand. He was about sixty years old and everything he wore, including his turban, was a sweaty yellow-white. His cracked face appeared to have endured hundreds of whipping sandstorms, and he sported a huge bristly mustache that exaggerated his comical facial expressions. He prattled away in Marwari, occasionally pausing for affirmation that I understood what he had just said. “Yes,” I would say, or, “uh-huh,” at which point he would nod at me sternly and begin jabbering again.


As the conversation inevitably began to lull he reached into the folds of his robe and produced a small wicker container. He removed the lid and placed a small ruddy-brown chunk of unidentifiable substance in the palm of my hand. Repeating the same gesture as the little girl with the honeycomb, he urged me to eat it. Unlike the intensely sweet honey, his mysterious food tasted of spiced earth. I swallowed it chewing as little as possible and, when I was finished, put my hands together in prayer to thank him. As we continued on our way down the dirt road, Dinesh turned to me with the content smile of a tour guide who had satisfied his client. “The old man very likes you,” he said. “He usually not give opium to anybody.”

Needless to say, the ride didn’t seem as bumpy, nor the lorries quite as terrifying, on the drive back to Jodhpur.

1 comment:

  1. Ben,
    I am mesmerized by your comments and observations. What an incredible experience! I look forward to keeping track of your experiences on your blog.
    Susan Kahn