Hey, what was that shiny thing? Was it really a woman? Was she really covered in rich fabric, woven with color, bespeckled in mirrors? That seems like just the sort of thing worth turning this old motorcycle around to get a better look at. Baga beach was calling, but this strange looking woman, like some cross between a voodoo priestess and a dancing girl selling wares on the side of the road was worth a closer look.
We pulled over, parking beside a tiny moss covered church, barely recognizable in the dense growth, and took a closer look at the woman. She seemed to be missing several teeth, and had lines of wisdom carved into her face. Her wares seemed fairly ordinary, small trinkets and the like, but Theresa was drawn to her. A Gypsy, apparently, from Rajasthan, a desert state to the north. She, her husband and their four children lived close by, and had many more lovely things for sale. Would we like to see? Theresa was most interested in one of the shimmering vests, made of a rich, heavy material with small mirrors sewn in with colourful threads. We followed her while her young son stayed at the roadside table to mind the business.
Snaking our way around numerous small buildings, we came at last to a small hut, no more than five feet tall, with corrugated tin for a roof. A water buffalo was tied to a post outside the entrance. Meager accommodations, but comfortably habitable for a gypsy family. She lifted a flap and motioned us inside. Her daughter, perhaps fourteen, was mashing a paste in a wooden bowl. The gypsy explained how her whole family lived in this hut. How even one person could live in this shed, let alone six, was beyond me. I was faced again with the realization that I had no concept of what some people’s reality was.
She pulled out a box filled with colourful fabrics of all hues and sizes, and found some of the lovely vests. Her daughter continued to pound her paste into a recognizable form. There was an earthen mound in the corner, dugout in the center with some smoldering wood giving off a faint wisp of smoke. The daughter placed a metal bowl over the pit, and started to cook the dough in the bowl, spreading it flat and thin. “Chapatti?” Now cooked, we were offered some of the delicious smelling bread. Not being sure of what the proper custom was, I took mine and hesitantly started to nibble at it. Cooked or not, food is always something to be wary of in India. Nonetheless, overcome with gratitude, I ate. These people had so little, and yet were willing to invite us into their home and offer us some food. It is as though having less only makes some people all the more willing to share. Theresa’s piece of the delicious bread had vanished, safely stowed away for later consumption, or perhaps safe disposal. She found the vest she liked, and we paid them generously for the goods and the hospitality. And somehow, I survived the ordeal of eating real homemade chapatti. And will probably never find one as tasty as that again, unless I come across another Indian gypsy hut in the wilds of North America.