I diligently walked passed a young girl yesterday morning, 'rupee?' 'no, na hee.' rupee?' 'na hee' The dance is a common one where children are used to pawn money from empathetic tourists. But if you watch the scene closely, it is an intricately organized plot, and the man in charge and usually gripping a long stick, is watching each child's every move to be sure the money is delivered back to him.... She is persistent from her many years of asking and i am steadfast as a result of the dozens that have preceeded her. The dance ends as quickly as it began as we hurry down to the river banks and board a row boat.
After the sunrise I sat on the steps leading to Asi ghat to take in the river coming alive with life. The young girl approaches again. This time, the dance is different. Only a single round of banter until she casually plopped herself on the step in front of me and turned her body to face me. Her skin was dark, burned by the scorching sun and baking heat. The blackness set off her white teeth; they were surely still baby teeth, with the snaggle tooth gaps of any child her age. Her hair was short and chaotic and stood thrashing out in all directions. The dirt and soil blending in, adding to the stiff, hardened texture. Her feet were bare of course, shoes are a luxury and likely an unthinkable frivolity. The fece-filled streets, rough concrete steps of the ghats and back alleys have left her feet cracked and soiled, looking parched and aged compared to my French manicure. After sitting a moment, she begins to take note of me, observing the strangeness that I must be to her. But looking like every other tourist she's seen in her too few years. She points to different items. First to my watch, saying something in Hindi that I don't understand. Thinking she is still asking for money; I have not changed my dance, 'na hee'. She points to my earrings and again, something incomprehensible to my ears. Her new dance continues . . . My sunglasses, my scarf and on we go. My dance is unaltered although my tone has softened to a whisper, 'na hee.' As I rose to make my way back to the hotel, this new dance comes to an end, and finally I offer the girl a different response, 'namaste.' I realize as I walk away, her new dance wasn't a request. It was her way of connecting. She wasn't asking for my sunglasses or earrings, she was just trying to communicate, to teach me the words in Hindi. My suspicious heart led me to miss the opportunity to dance her new dance, to ask about the small key that hung around her neck, to learn 'key' in Hindi, to experience.
The next morning, I saw her again, this time from a distance. I paused and raised my joined palms to my forehead and then down to my chest. She did the same, with a sweet, snaggle-tooth grin which I returned. A new dance has begun and another dance is coming.
From Northern India