Travelling in a tuk-tuk, an autorickshaw, through a dusty little town in central India. It is the day before the Diwali festival, the Hindu equivalent of Christmas, and the streets are even more thronged than usual. The going is very slow through the market area, over bumps, broken roadway, and muddy stretches of stony ground. Cows chew with indecent ease on a little Everests of garbage, and there are grubby blue and yellow tarpaulins everywhere laid out with bananas and guavas, tomatoes and chillis. Children with frizzy hair, lower caste, peer up as you pass, absorbing all the fat of your comfort.
Over the put-put racket of the engine, the driver yells something that equates to having to pull over for a bit, hops out and wanders over to where another fellow is working on the engine of his own tuk-tuk. The driver bends down and peers into the tiny engine for a knowledgeable look-see, seems to do nor say nothing more, and sidles back to his seat and guns the engine.
As he does, a woman materialises from the market crowds, and approaches, apparently wanting a ride. She is head to toe in black, the headscarf trimmed with gold. The only part of her face exposed are the brown eyes, heavily rimmed with kohl, that look towards me, and linger a half moment. I nod, and she hops in, and we take off, two unlikely fellows in the back seat, the Indian Muslim and the Western Non.
I stare straight ahead, as it feels so does she, and we bounce along for a few minutes, each clinging to our sectioned little piece of handrailing, until she calls to the driver to stop, and hands him a five rupee note. As she gets out, the ankle-length hem of her black outer garment rises an inch or two, exposing silver stilettoes and a slash of silky scarlet beneath.
She walks off, carrying a bag in which I see a small wrapped parcel. Has she bought someone something for the Hindu Duwali, I wonder? The driver speeds on, and the crowds merge around her as easily as they divulged her. Merry Christmas, I can't help but think.