Just One Question (June 1, 2006)

His shadow crossed over me while I sat teetering on the edge of a cinder block feeling miserable. I knew he was there, waiting to talk to me but I did not want to talk to him. I had spent the morning attempts to see Captain Dutt to tell him I was leaving Pushkar, but he had not found time for me and I had given up and walked over to the bus stop in search of a cool drink.

I walked along the row of kiosks passing merchants lazily lounging fat in their hot little 4x4 stalls, not caring if a customer bought cookies or cokes or anything from them. The 125-degree heat had zapped their energy and none called to me, “Come look.” They did not care. No one cared about anything in this weather. I cared about one thing only but it was lost to me forever.

I rousted a roly-poly man swatting flies with a soiled red cloth and asked him for a cola. He reached into an ice chest and extracted a warm Pepsi, wiped the dust off the bottle and popped the top before handing it to me. I paid him and looked around for some place to sit while I decided what to do about Dutt. That is when I felt his shadow shade me, and I knew without turning around or looking up who would be there.

As a woman traveling alone I had been here before, if not this place and time. While I would not recognize the face, it was not uncommon to be approached by a lone male in search of striking up a conversation with a foreign woman all the while hoping to strike it lucky.

“Madam?” he said.

I did not look up or turn around but rather continued to sip my hot soda and hope he would go away.

He did not.

I felt him linger above me, saw his shadow sway, and heard the sun sizzling on my bare skin.

He hovered, unsure of what to do next.

I knew what I wanted; I wanted to be left alone. I had spent the morning climbing a stony hill to a reach a shakti peeth temple in search of discovering a piece of Kali. I was attacked by a small dog with needle-like teeth and pulled into an awkward conversation with the resident priest. Kamal was a twenty-something young man whose father was the temple priest. The father was no longer able to climb the three-quarter mile, stony hill to the temple so he sent his son in his place.

Once a week, Kamal descended the hill for food and water, returning with all his supplies on his back. He had a fifth-grade education that armed him with a smattering of English and the rest he picked up from travelers who climbed the hill. He also spoke German, French, and Spanish to name a few.

“Come,” he said after I asked him if the temple was a shakti peeth temple. He rose from the cool stone floor and laid the book he was reading—Tolkien’s The Hobbit—to rest in the doorway. The hem of his lungi tumbled to the floor like a cascade of milk and skimmed the marble surface as he walked weightlessly away.

I followed him to a small room at the rear of the temple—his bedroom. That was where the dog, a yapping white dog, attacked me. It scuttled out from under the charpoy with its little teeth clacking and snapping. I am not sure if my hesitation to enter was due to the dog or that of entering a priest’s bedroom. But enter I did after Kamal threw shoes at the shoebox-sized dog forcing it to retreat. It scooted back under the charpoy where it continued to threaten me with punctures. Every time it inched closer to the edge of the charpoy Kamal would through another shoe at it. He must have tossed seven pairs of shoes at the dog in all.

Kamal told me Kali’s wrists had fallen from the Heaven’s to that spot when I asked which of her 51 pieces (body parts) made the site a holy one. As soon as I asked the question I was ready to leave, but Kamal had an agenda of his own. He wanted to discuss the power India men held over women and was it the same in America. This simple question drained me of the little energy I had left because it carried so much complexity with it. I felt ill equipped to discuss the role of men and women with a man from my own culture let alone do the subject any justice with a man from a vastly different culture. My response—a simple shrug—left Kamal looking disappointed, and I left his company wondering why a man who spent his life barefoot would need to possess so many shoes?

It was because of my morning climb and the dog and the unanswerable question that I just wanted to be left alone, but the young man behind me did not seem to be going away. I continued to sip my hot cola as his shadow weighed on me, without providing the least bit of cool respite, I might add.

“Madam? Can I as you one question?” he said.

This time I relented, thinking to myself, “Just answer his question so you both can get on with your lives.” There were only a few questions young men had for foreign women: Are you married? What country are you from? And, the most irresistible question of all, Are you alone?

He did not ask any of the usual questions, but simple said in a quiet voice, “Madam, did you loose a bag?”

© 1997-2006. C.L. Stambush, All Rights Reserved Worldwide


Anonymous said...

Good going!! Would recommend that you visit a website '' for some tips and recommendations about riding in India.
This group is mainly a all-india riding community.
Maybe you could even meet some of them in different parts of India... you can find out about their contact details from the website.
Good luck and happy riding.

Anonymous said...

I have been planning to buy a bullet and since then have been searching the net for bullet users feedback. That is when i came across your blog. I have read all the sections/episodes (whatever you may like to call it) today in one go.
Excellent narration and gripping. Surprisingly forgot all about Bullet while reading it :).

Storm said...

Maybe you should modify your template where it says:
posted by C.L. Stambush @ #time# #comments#

to say:
I'm not riding anymore. Posted by C.L. Stambush @ #time# #comments#


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