“Here,” he said, pushing four flowers into my mehndi hands and clasping them shut, “go down and put these into the lake. Say a prayer whilst you do it.” And with a smile, this young gentleman, who left as suddenly as he came, walked back into the market that smelled of cinnamon incense, falafel and roasted nuts.
“Who was that?” another volunteer asked, as I ambled back towards her.
“No idea. He asked me where I was from and then gave me these,” I responded, holding out the delicate pink and yellow flowers. She put the silver rings she was holding down and carefully grasped the largest yellow flower.
I explained what the gentleman proposed we do with them, and after gathering the two other volunteers who came with us to Pushkar, we wandered down to the lake.
Barefoot and having passed pigeons and monkey’s nursing their young, we settled on the edge of the lake, watching the water as the high sun warmed our faces. After a prayer and a 1,2,3 count, just as we were about to release our flowers into the water, a Brahmin approached us and introduced himself.
“Here, let me say a few words,” was the gist of his request, and after a period of chanting and repeating his song-like speeches, we placed the flowers into the water and watched them bob away. Pink and yellow on a bed of clear water, the Brahmin then wrapped a thread around our wrist and placed a bindi on our foreheads.
A mystical experience surrounded by beauty, the harmony was damaged by the next words that left this holy man’s mouth: “donation please, so Brahmin can eat.”
Stupefied, we turned to each other before unleashing:
“But we didn’t ask you to join us.”
“What do you mean 200 rupees each!?”
“I’m so confused.”
Yet the Brahmin continued to push and push for a donation, and only settled and left us once we had given him 150 rupees altogether.
Whilst we were quite lucky in this situation (I’ve read scenarios of people paying out from anywhere between £50 to over £100 to these people), the atmosphere was a little less magical after the exchange, and so we left the scene with a good, if tarnished, memory, to go back and eat some fresh avocado from a falafel stall.