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The Kalbeliya and Bopa Women:
Queens of the Rajasthan Desert

continued (page 4 of 5)

I tried to explain to Anita that I was a professional photographer and that I wanted to take photos of her dancing with a full group. I am not sure how much she understood, but she did know how to count. Lots of photos and private dancing equals lots of money. She told me that four women dancing and four musicians would cost 3000 rupees, more than the monthly wages of eight people. As we shared cookies from Yumi’s pack, I began asking more questions. She said she came from Kuri, a small desert settlement and was now living on the outskirts of town in Ganera. After twenty minutes of drinking tea, Anita dropped her price to 1500 rupees and wanted us to follow her to her home to set up the dance and photo shoot instantly. I didn’t think the Kalbeliya people would murder us to steal our money and cameras, but I needed to talk to more people before deciding. I was also fighting a cold and didn’t feel up to walking 45 minutes carrying camera gear, so I told Anita I would see her the next day when I felt better.

The following morning, Yumi and I set out on foot for Ganera, a tiny patch of desert with small, poor houses. As we walked, hordes of children followed and friendly people greeted us but none looked like the Kalbeliya. After two hours of walking, we stopped and asked a moto-rikshaw driver if he knew where the Gypsy village was. Ten minutes and two dollars later, we arrived at the wrong place. When we re-explained our goal, he took us back past where we had started. A few yards further into the desert was a cabana where men were seated, sipping chai.

The three mustachioed men belonged in a movie. Earrings hanging, they wore stones and silver rings on all fingers and their hands were covered with geometric tattoos. It was easy to recognize the leader—although young, he spoke and walked with confidence. After I explained what I was seeking, he shook my hand and said, “I’m Suresh, come to my home.” Home turned out to be two rusted metal beds set in the middle of the desert and covered with old blankets and holey plastic tarps. Around them was a four-foot tall wall of dried bushes that offered them nothing more than a little privacy from the other clans living around them. There were no bricks, no adobe, no clay and no wood—nothing that looked like even a temporary home. One bit of earth had been packed down to accommodate a small fire pit and a few broken bags contained all the clan’s belongings. This was Ganera, a piece of arid land on the outskirts of Pushkar that a dozen families called home. Unaware, Yumi and I had walked within 50 yards of this camp and seen the bushes, a few clothes and a couple of people but never imagined that the Kalbeliya would be living without homes of any kind.

Page 4 of 5 | Next page »


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