“Here, a pretty flower for a pretty girl.”
In my hands, adorned with decadent Mehndi and gold rings which gleamed in the sun, he placed four flowers.
“One for you, and the rest for your friends.”
On the outside, I was smiling pleasantly, saying thanks in the most gracious way possible that didn’t involve old-school curtseying, but on the inside, I was doing backflips and shaking my hips seductively, proud that this handsome fella had given his flowers to me, for I was the special chosen one in this sea of tourists, the one who currently held the brightest pink and yellow flora I had ever seen.
“You have to go down to the lake,” he said, clasping my fingers around the flowers, “and place them in the water after you’ve made your wish.”
I nodded and thanked him again before walking away. The thought of those beautiful flowers ebbing in the gentle waters as the sun set for the evening was dreamlike, and I kept imagining what wish I could make which would fit in with the calm tones and serene colours of Pushkar I had experienced so far.
“Hey guys,” I began, stopping in front of a jewellery stall where my three companions had congregated as a didgeridoo warbled in the distance, “look at what I was given,” I said smugly.
“Aw, pretty!” “Stunning!” “Beautiful!” They crooned, each taking one.
“Yeah, some guy, that guy over there,” I slyly gestured, “said that we should make a wish and then put them in the lake. Want to do it?”
“Of course,” said Alice, in her gentle French enunciation, “but does anyone have their period?”
We all shook our heads – no, luckily for us, because earlier we had seen some (red!) writing painted on one of the walls in town that ‘kindly’ reminded menstruating women to essentially stay the hell away from the water.
“Great! Let’s go then.”
It was a gorgeous heat – north India in February is perfect – and as the sun began to set, shadows followed us as we walked barefoot down the steps to the lake.
“This looks like a good spot,” Layla announced, stopping suddenly and dropping her shoes, bag and ass down. Alice, Avery and I took a quick glance at our surroundings to confirm that yes, there were loads of pigeons, before following suit, stretching our clothed legs out in the fading sunlight, toes close enough to skim the water.
We settled down, closed our eyes and began to wish… before being interrupted less than ten seconds later by a loud, “hello, hello!”
Opening my eyes, I saw an elderly gentleman, thin, scraggly, and holding a thick yarn of red string crouching in front of us.
“I’m a Brahmin. We will pray together.” A statement that none of us questioned, but only nodded our heads enthusiastically at to have this first experience with an Indian holy man.
We watched intently with smiles on our faces as he muttered recitations with quick pace, taking in his charming lilt that fit so perfectly with our surroundings – the peaceful movement of the lake, the golden orange sky and the pale temples and bathing spots which encircled us. He stopped speaking after a few minutes and indicated we should drop our flowers into the water, and we stared with fascination as they bobbed away.
“Oh, thank you!” I whipped my head round to notice that the Brahmin was swiftly wrapping some of the string around our left wrists, and I held out my hand to receive mine before he crouched back and smiled, waiting. Alice and I looked at each other, wondering,
“Can we help?” Layla spoke up. The Brahmin grinned further.
“5000 rupees, please.” We all rose our eyebrows and I did a quick calculation. £55.
“For what!?” Avery shrieked.
He pointed to the strings. “Donation. Brahmin has family. Brahmin needs to eat.” I giggled in disbelief.
“We’re not giving you 5000 rupees. That’s way too much!”
“NO!” We all gazed at him in agog, mouths open. He could sense a losing battle, clearly, because after going back and forth, he eventually settled on us just giving what we could.
After we each pulled out a note and he made his departure, I realised something: I was only given those flowers because I was the one who clearly, out of all the other tourists on the street, looked like the easiest scam target! Note to self: try to fix that, and don’t be too overjoyed when someone chooses you out of the crowd.