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Gori Bahu

An English girl adopted a lower middle class family residing in Delhi as her own – and lived happily for a year before things went awry

A 23-year-old girl who grew up in London came to Delhi in the early summers of 2015. Mary (name changed on request) was fresh out of college and sought some adventure in life. India had some nostalgic value for her: her great-grandfather had served in the colonial administration. She had inherited a small wooden box crafted somewhere in Rajasthan.

The halt at Delhi was meant to be for a week before she’d fly to Bali for an extended three-month holiday.

That was not to happen. She stayed on in Delhi for nearly two long years. “The two most intense years of my life so far,” she says.

She likes travelling alone, she’s open to life and experiences, and life is kind to her in the way it has panned out. The beginning was disastrous. The touts, the auto-rickshaw-wallahs, the beggars on the street all seem to target her, a tall, slender girl, with sharp features and ready wit, who’s too gullible and trusting. She couldn’t even reach her hotel from the airport and sat in a park, sweating in the sun, her 20-kg backpack resting on the bench beside her, she crying aloud.

A Good Samaritan app-roached her, a young man wearing a grin on his conical face. He, Rahul, a medium built man in tight jeans and loose overhanging shirt, helped Mary reach her hotel and made her comfortable there.

Rahul left Mary in her room to recoup the horrific beginning of her stay in Delhi. Two days later, they met at a café and Rahul became her unofficial guide to the city. Rahul worked as a salesman in a sports attire shop, and he was good at what he decided
to do.
Rahul’s intervention changed Delhi into a welcoming city. Mary loved the Delhi life. The glorious contradictions, rich and poor, the pace of the city, the method in the madness, all intrigued her. “I was fascinated by Delhi, for I felt, it has room for everyone, even a firangi like me.”

Mary made up her mind to cancel Bali. About a month into her stay in Delhi, Rahul had to travel out for some business reasons. Mary was again alone to deal with the vagaries of Delhi. She was fascinated about just everything, wrote blogs describing her daily experiences of catching a bus, buying vegetables, learning Hindi, and hanging out with some newly acquired Indian friends. But in all this, she realised that Rahul’s absence was stronger than his presence. She would never cease to think about him.

Rahul was an ambitious, yet responsible, young man from a lower middle class family who made decent money and supported his family. Looks-wise, he was the boy next door, charming, intelligent and with an overdose of sentimentality. Spending time with Mary made him secure. When they met after a month, Mary told him she finds him “special” and “a person who makes her happy like no one else.”

They soon began dating. Mary gave Rahul grooming tips and helped her find a better job in a multinational company by applying on his behalf. Rahul’s life was transformed by Mary’s arrival. Mary’s nagging emptiness was filled by Rahul’s love.

About three months later, Rahul and Mary informed their respective parents about their relationship, stressing, “We have a future together.” Mary met Rahul’s younger sister who loved Mary’s clothes and admired her height, which was four inches more than her brother’s. Rahul had a chat with Mary’s brother via Skype and concluded, “Mary’s brother looks exactly like her but for the cropped-hair.”

Such things have happened with many European girls who come holidaying in India and fall in love with the “riff-raff”. They seem to experience certain existential dilemma that they cannot understand or put words to. The contrast and contradictions that a life in Delhi offers seems to quell the unrest inside. And their love interest, if were to be considered ‘logically’, the conclusion invariably is: love is indeed blind.

After a brief ceremony akin to marriage, Mary moved into Rahul’s house in Rohini: a two bedroom house where a dozen people lived. Rahul’s father was a retired government servant and a frustrated man who had convinced himself over the years that the world had been unkind to him. His mother, who had spent 20 hours a day tending to her family, was curious and excited about Mary. She became the Gori Bahu.

In the next few months she learned to cook Indian food from Rahul’s mother. Language was a barrier they were trying to bridge. Mary was taking Hindi classes, Rahul’s mother was learning some English words from her daughter. They got along famously well. Rahul’s mother would invite neighbours to show how well Mary could make chapatis. They loved the masala chai she made.

Rahul’s mother was generous to a fault. Not only did she ensure Rahul and Mary have a room unto themselves, she made them comfortable. The only air-conditioner in the house was in Mary’s bedroom that was slightly bigger than the double-bed it housed—there was hardly any space to walk around. Beneath the high double-bed — almost as high as a study table — were many old iron trunks with family possessions. “Yeh thande desh ki hai, isko garmi bahut lagati hai (she’s from a cold country, she’s uncomfortable in summers),” Rahul’s mother would tell her neighbours.

At 5 every morning, Rahul’s mother would knock at Mary’s door with a cup of steaming hot chai. Her knocking was persistent, and the only way to stop it was to open the door. Mary started sleeping wearing salwar-kameez. She would take the cup of chai and go back to bed. This situation was unsustainable, as Mary felt sleep deprived and was unable to deal with excessive attention she was getting from neighbouring women, who came visiting in big groups. Some of them would press her hand and feet with affection, as if kneading dough, just to make sure that she’s real. “It was getting crazy,” she says retrospectively.

She moved out and took a small room in South Delhi, where she lived for three months. Rahul would visit her, but he acted as if it was out of some sort of obligation. He was always late and irritable. “It took me three months to realise it was over,” Mary says. In the last few months, she made many Indian friends, honed her writing talent, and experience certain changes in herself. Like her ability to face life as it is. “I was not ready for a long-term partnership. There’s so much to see and experience,” she concludes.

But then she didn’t go back and settle in London either. She finds her home town a living relic devoid of inspiration. So she travelled extensively to China, Middle East, to Cuba “before Americans rob its old-time charm.” Her journey seems to have become her destination, at least for some years.