Wednesday, July 15, 2009


On my last day in Varanasi, I walked to the tailor's shop to pick up saris and kurtas I had ordered made from beautiful fabrics.

While walking, I noticed a small woman sitting on the paving stones between shops, leaning against the side of a building.

I hurried past, but something about her quiet presence moved me. She was not begging, but flies were buzzing around her.

Why was she sitting there?

I pulled out a ten rupee bill (20 cents) and walked back.

"Ap-ka nam kyah hai?" I asked, smiling. ("What's your name?")

"Angie," she said. "Thank you, m'am."

"Oh, you speak English!" I answered, surprised. "May I take your picture?"

"Yes, that's okay," she said.

I snapped a couple of photos and walked off, wondering in what context she had learned her English, hoping it wasn't oppressive or even perhaps prostitution.

This encounter was a capsule of my two weeks in India: chance encounters hampered by huge class, language, and culture barriers, moments that moved me deeply but left me confused about how to respond.

Sit down and ask her to tell me her story? Give her more money?

Or just rush off to tour a couple of temples? That was what I did.

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