I think I must have been a memsahib in one of my previous lives—or maybe I’m here this time to rehearse for a future life in which India once more becomes part of an Empire? Can’t believe it would British this time, though… What awful thoughts! India and her people sit cozily in a corner of my heart (metaphorically speaking, for any sticklers who read this), but too often, mostly when I’m tired or sick, I find myself mentally rehearsing long and life-changing lectures about cleanliness and basic common sense.

Currently I’m staying in a guest house directly behind the Tulsi Ghat, which is five minutes from Assi Ghat the clean food of the Aum and the Open Hand Cafes (life-savers for fragile westerners as yet unused to Varanasi). The extended family who live here in a concrete warren of interconnected rooms, are charming, and the son and his wife, who runs the guest house (there’s room for four people… so it’s more like a home stay), are educated and sympathetic. The real boon for me is that the broadband is miraculously fast (I can even stream tv programmes) on top of which I have been able to rent a little apartment all to myself, so I don’t have to share toilet or bathroom, or kitchen without anyone else. It was a good move, and one I congratulate myself on every day, even though the mattress is a centimetre thick and my poor old bones are getting quite bruised.

However, today my landlady (I think her name is Bunty, but I may have misheard; she’s beautiful and kind and a really good cook) came to wash the floor of my bedroom and change my bedclothes (a good move, I think I have bedbugs, unless the red spots on my body are mosquito bites or some unknown lurgy my decrepit frame has fallen foul of). I tried not to watch as they washed the floor, averting my eyes from the colour of the water they used, or focus on the brown footprints their shoes made as they walk over the wet floor. I thanked them graciously (à la memsahib), then grabbed a toilet roll and mopped up a bit before it all dried (more disappointing behaviour for a true memsahib). The colour of the toilet paper left me breathless.

Upon reflection, were I truly a memsahib wouldn’t I have pointed out their transgressions and stood over them, stony-faced, arms crossed firmly under a sadly scrawny bossom, until they’d done the job ‘properly’? And isn’t being a suppressed memsahib infinitely worse than being an overt one? Did I mention that the didi scooped the dust she had swept up with her hands, then changed my bedsheets…

Anyway, enough of that. Here’s a snap of a flowerlady. The going rate these days is 10 rupees for a garland of marigolds and 20 rupees for a mixture of white flowers (perhaps jasmine and a miniature chrysanthemum?) and marigolds. Roses are more.

2 thoughts on “Memsahib

  1. Someone, perhaps Mary Daly, an anthropologist, defined dirt as “matter out of place”
    When everything is in its place, where are we?

    Sacred outlook?

  2. Actually that anthropologist was Mary douglas and her book was called purity and danger
    E Ma Ho
    I am so vicariously enjoying your adventure, thank you

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