I was reminded of the joys of solo travel recently when I decided to part ways with my travel group while exploring rural Rajasthan, India’s jewel state. A water crisis in the early morning after a sleepless night had finally convinced me to move from the crummy noisy guesthouse to more comfortable accommodations in the town of Bikaner. There I luxuriated in my first hot shower and soft bed for months and slept like a baby.
The next day I caught a local bus (we had been traveling by car until then) and got myself acclimatized again to India’s version of public transportation. It was early morning and the bus heading for the six-hour journey to Ajmer was full. Settling into the bedlam, I move to make room for a woman who sits beside me and we smile at each other. As the day warms and the journey begins, we also warm to each other and begin to talk. Days of rough travel dissolve instantly after our first shy hesitant hello. Madhu and I exchange information about our lives, hopes and dreams; an hour and a half shared between two women in a rickety local bus rattling along the desert plains. We will never see each other again but I will think of her again and every time I do, it will be with fondness. I think the same also will happen in reverse. This kind of random real connection is why I love solo travel.
After Madhu got off the bus, I noticed a group of Gujurati women sitting together on their way to the Ajmer Dagarh. They talk amongst themselves about me and I understand enough Hindu to know they are being lovely and generous and curious.
Eventually we begin to share smiles and food and a conversation begins, questions are asked in broken English and fractured Hindi, and I manage to establish a bond through the exchange of everyday information about my family.
Then they want to look at photos of my family, then they want me to take their photos, I promise to send them to their home address, the bus passengers scurry for a pen and paper, we try to write in Hindi then English, the woman crowd around me and start asking me for something. I can’t understand why she is pointing to my breasts. She leans closer and whispers in my ear “BRA”.
“You want to see my bra?”
“No, I want you to send me a bra From Foreign.” It’s the first time anyone but my daughter has asked me to buy them a bra and I am a little astounded. “Well, why not?” I say. I wish someone would send me some bras from foreign too. Indian bras are designed for nuns and there is nothing very sexy about them. Plain serviceable and unimaginative is the nicest thing I can say about Indian Bras.
I hate it when people make me promise to do something when the likelihood of me honoring that promise is slim, but the whole weight of Gujurati sisterhood is bearing down on me. I imagine for one minute what it would be like to be a village woman receiving a parcel “From Foreign”. I imagine the excitement it would cause and the hilarity of sending her a sexy black bra all lace and froth and bedecked with red ribbons.
“O god, alright I promise!” This is not enough. Now she tells me I may as well send something From Foreign for the baby in her daughter in laws womb in the same parcel. Luckily my stop appears and I leap to freedom, the women wave to me from the bus and I stand by the roadside choking on dust and promises and pollution. But if there is anyone out there who wants to send a sexy lacy red-ribboned size 36C bra to this woman in Gujurat, contact me for her address. Consider it as a random act of sisterhood.