The Banjarans in Rajasthan are born into the cosmic cycle of nature, they find direction with the moon and the stars showing them the way. On moonless nights, they sing into the dark, following its echo. Their songs are about death, birth, or love, never about possession. They are born free and die free, in sync with the cycle of nature. The gorgeous Banjara women are sexually liberated, and it shows in their attitude to life.
The nomadic tribe pitches a tent in different spots every other day and through the torn tents, the Banjarans look into the moonlit sky through their kohl-rimmed eyes. Those beautiful eyes hold many stories. They love ornaments and tattoos. Where one begins, the other ends and their bangles often come up to their elbows, the remaining skin covered with tattoos.
I met Rajjo, a Banjaran, on a street in Rajasthan. She was uninhibited and her slim waist held up a ghagra teamed with a backless blouse that showed off her dark smooth back. Her hair looked like it hadn't been washed in a while, tied back in a braid with a mangtikka. Her eyes were filled with leftover kohl. I smiled at her from the backseat of my car. She smiled back at me, eyeing all I had on me.
I told her I loved her jewellery. She said she loved my watch. Her eyes shone as she looked me up and down.
Rajjo squinted into the sunlight and offered me her earrings in exchange for my watch. Even before I could react her hands were outstretched. She was a true-blue negotiator, one who was unafraid to ask for something she desired. She epitomised someone who was used to getting what she wanted. Her appearance was that of a devil diva yet she was fragile like glass. She was difficult to trust, yet you couldn't help but give in to her charms.
I took off my watch and she gave me her earrings. I shunned time and she embraced it. She continued to ask for more and more. We exchanged a few of our souls in that transaction. I took them off and put them in her hands-earrings for the watch, her chain for my chain. She put them all in her pouch without looking at me.
I had started enjoying this exchange between Rajjo and me. I saw a thrill in her eyes, something I'd lost somewhere during the course of my life. She filled me and my soul. I was helpless in her guile. She looked me straight into the eye and asked me to tell my driver to park the car on the side. I followed her like a little child unable to manoeuvre the path back home. She was commanding in her tone.
As my car slowly moved to the side. I watched her walk. It was the hour of dusk. Her dupatta billowed in the warm summer wind. I waited.
She came close to the window and started to pull her hair ornament from between her hair parting. It was a heavy piece of jewellery. She pulled it out, tearing a few strands of hair as she handed it to me. Then she made gestures for me to put it on my hair parting. As I raised my hands to put the heavy ornament, her eyes caught the light falling on my diamond ring. She put out her palm, asking me for my wedding ring. I was hesitant, but her eyes bore into my soul.
Was I the one who had started this exchange? I could not care less who did but it was starting to get out of hand. I did not want to continue playing this game with her rules. I thought hard, but I couldn't hear myself. All I heard was her heavy breathing. I effortlessly pulled off the ring and gave it to her. She put the ring on her finger, looked at it, and then covered her breasts with her dupatta, she began taking off her Choli. It was heavy with mirrors, and stitches and she told me to give her my silk shirt.
I took it off and she stared at my bra, touching the lace straps. It was like she had never seen lace before. She threw her Choli on my face and I held the Choli against my skin. It had the fragrance of the desert and the death of her spirit in it. It was still warm with her body heat. I smelt her clothes against my nostrils, letting the smell permeate into my being. I hurriedly wore the Choli over my linen pants. She stood smiling as she wore my silk shirt over her black skirt.
An uncomfortable pain rose in my head, like a warning bell deep in my subconscious. I wanted this game to end. I raised my hand to wave her goodbye, but grabbed my arm and pulled me closer. I obeyed, fully under her spell.
I stood there watching her against the summer sky. Her dishevelled hair, my silk shirt on her body, hugging her contours. She looked ethereal. She me close and hugged me. I could smell the earth on her skin. As she moved away, she laughed and opened the string of her skirt. I watched it drop down.
The summer sky was dark and the wind was warm against my bareback. I stood on the street corner wearing Rajjo's tattered garments and her begging bowl in my hand. She stood back and held her gaze towards me with admiration in her eyes. I felt shy in her presence. But a carnal part of me was pleased with my obedience, which made Rajjo happy.
Excerpted with permission from “This Happens When You Let Go in Front of a Gypsy”, Nautanki Sala and Other Stories (OakBridge Publishing), written by Mohua Chinappa, pp. 131, Rs. 199