My bargaining skills are increasing by the hour. Yesterday I got completely taken when I bought a few things to wear around the beach. The woman must have been able to tell that I had just arrived (perhaps my Scottish fish-belly pallor gave it away?) and I should have known that I was paying much more than I needed to. At the market today I bought a silver ‘wedding’ ring for half the price originally quoted, but I think I still paid too much. Getting there. There is a lot of stuff to buy – clothing, jewelry, bags, masks, paintings, silver cups, you name it. I have to be ruthless about throwing things out of my pack that I know now I won’t use.
I got to talking yesterday evening with a young Indian man named Raju. He is from Rajasthan, but he travels for his family silver business. I asked him about his long thumbnails and he said they’re normal for a man. A woman wears her pinkie nails long, and so does a gay man. I’m not sure I understood everything he said, but it was clear that gays have a very hard life in India: that they are not allowed to hold normal jobs, and it seems the only ways open of making a living are dancing and begging. On the other hand, it is apparently good luck to have your baby blessed by a gay person, and very good luck to see the dead body of a gay person. Most have never even seen one, however, because it’s not such good luck for the dead person – if they are seen, they will be reincarnated again as gay. I think I have understood this correctly, but if not someone please let me know.
I told Raju that my husband was on a business trip in Mumbai, and that he would be coming to meet me at the end of the week. He was astonished that I had been allowed to come to Goa alone. Raju has had an Austrian girlfriend (who lives in Austria) for the past five years, and has seen her only four times, but he hopes to bring her here to get to know her better and possibly marry her. He is waiting, though, because he has a younger unmarried sister, and he says that if he were to get divorced it would bring dishonor on her and she would never marry. Everyone would wonder if there was something wrong with the family. The dishonor would in fact transfer even to his cousins’ sisters (his female cousins, I presume). Within the next few months the family will begin the process of finding the sister a husband: the father and grandfather will find a suitable boy, then a priest will read their star signs. If everything is aligned, the boy and girl will meet once, accompanied by their families. Because Raju’s family is educated, they will allow the boy and girl to be alone together for five minutes, and she will have the right to refuse him — although her father would be angry, and I don’t get the impression she could do it more than once. Raju says he will aid his sister to meet the hypothetical boy a couple of times in secret so that she can make a better guess.
Raju mentioned a few times that he thought there was a double standard between men and women, but he hoped that with modernity would come more freedom for women. He brought up the subject of aborting female babies after a sonogram; he said that the government had made it illegal to abort female babies (unless there was some good reason, I imagine) and that they had started a program of payments for girls to be used as their dowries. Even though the practice of dowry is itself illegal, it’s clear that it’s still the norm. I had read about the sonogram abortion problem but it hadn’t struck me how a new technology can upset a natural balance: women have been discriminated against in most traditional societies, but until recently nature made sure that 50% of babies were at least born female – after that it was up to the parents to decide what to do.