Whenever my maternal uncle, who lives in Germany, comes to India for his holidays, he brings along his German colleagues and friends who are eager to explore India and her vibrant culture. However, last year, one of his young co-workers took the risk of travelling alone.
In the last leg of her trip, she came to my maternal home at Butala village near the Bakala Sahib shrine in Amritsar district. Dying to discover rural Punjab, she did not want to miss the ongoing three-day annual fair at the village that my uncle had told her about.
I was instructed to be her guide and my grandmother was told to welcome her. Ebullience brimming, the visitor arrived in the afternoon, and in the evening as planned, I took her to the fair that she was so excited about. “Let’s go walking; it’s the best way to explore any country,” she told me.
I was reluctant to take her around on foot, as I knew how excited the villagers would be to see her. As we stepped out, I just prayed for them to remain in control. Instead, they ogled her at every door. Some of them were keen to know who she was and from where she had come. As we marched further, windows were flung open and men climbed rooftops to announce to neighbours and friends that she was coming. “Gori in our village!” voices rang out, but we continued to march on with a smile.
A group of naughty children with running noses ran into us on the next street. Again and again, they shook hands with her and asked her in broken English all the questions they had mugged up in their English class at school.
The conversations began with “What is your name?” and “How are you?” but soon veered to “How old are you?”, “What is your father’s name?”, and the most embarrassing: “Are you single or married?” For a moment, the queries stumped her but as the children left, she couldn’t stop laughing, and her positive vibes drew a trail of admirers.
As we entered the fair grounds, revellers disengaged from the fair, as she became the chief amusement, the showstopper. Children and young women ran in to take selfies and groupfies with her.
Even elderly men of the village stopped by to catch a glimpse of her and ask me introduce her to them. She was taking pictures of the fair, while the crowd was busy taking snapshots of her; but she kept her smile. As we strolled back home, I told her she had become a celebrity for the villagers and they’d remember her visit forever. “I know,” she said, “I could feel their excitement. It was a Miss Universe experience for me.”
Next morning, she left for Delhi to catch her flight back to Munich. In a few weeks, we received a postcard from her, thanking us for the hospitality. But what she had written futher touched our hearts. It read: “Tell the villagers their Miss Universe misses them, too. Do thank the children who made me laugh — my best travel experience; will return soon.”
The writer is an HT staff correspondent based in Ludhiana.