Recently I was at Pushkar in Rajasthan for the world famous camel fair. That this fair is known globally was borne by the fact that hundreds of foreign tourists were present at the fair. You couldn’t walk one pace without bumping into one.
It still came as a surprise to see locals hold near-perfect conversations in English, French and even German trying to sell their wares. Women, who it appeared had never seen the insides of a school, spoke English fluently.
I imagine that when your livelihood depends on knowing a foreign tongue, you pick it up regardless of how difficult it may be. Just as these women walk for miles to fetch drinking water because they know they have to, there’s no other way.
I couldn’t but watch in amazement how these poor rural folks managed to pick foreign tongues to make a living.
But sometimes in their desperate attempts to win over the foreign tourists us poor Indians feel a bit left out.
At the Pushkar fair, after walking under a really hot sun for hours clicking pictures after driving all night without nearly a blink of sleep we were exhausted and we sat down at a makeshift refreshment stall. There were these two Rajasthani traditional musicians playing a lilting folk number to a bunch of middle-aged foreign tourists.
I was enjoying it too and then it came to me in a flash that I had made a mental note some years ago to hear “kesariya balam padharo mhare des” (one of the most famous and most beautiful Rajasthani folk songs) from a real folk singer.
So I walked up to these guys [while they were taking a break after pocketing a few hundred rupees for a 10-minute performance and selling a CD of their music, yes the even had a CD of their music] and said “firangiyon ko kesariya balam nahi sunaoge?!” the singer gave a toothy smile and said “hume ye gana nahi ata sahab”. Probably he thought I won’t pay so I added for good measure that I’ll pay you to sing, but again the same answer.
Imagine! A folk singer claiming he doesn’t know the most famous Rajasthani folk song. Anyway, disappointed I sat back to enjoy my cold drink as the woman owner of the stall spoke crisp English to the firang woman in the group trying to sell some more stuff.
Back in Delhi, I searched for the song in YouTube and I found a video of none other than the legendary Pakistani ghazal singer, Mehdi Hassan, singing the song.
In the end my wish was fulfilled by the Emperor of Ghazals, who was born at a village called Loni in Rajasthan in a family of traditional musicians!