Missing Dreams

He waited outside of our hotel, keeping a respectful distance between his Took-Took and the hotel manager who may see him talking to one of their customers, namely, me. I approached him and said, “Ap Kaise Hen” (?sp) He smiled the brightest of smiles and said, “Tikay. Yes, I am good. Thank you. Do you learn Hindi?” I laughed a bit, and rolled my eyes, “I am trying, but it is a very difficult language. I need some help.” He said, “No problem. I teach you Hindi. I have an hour right now.” I laughed some more, “Ya, right, how much?” He still smiled, “For you, there is no charge. My name is Ali. Let’s go.”

Thus began my Ali Tour Guide experience. He explained right off the bat that he was Muslim and that I must trust him. There are a lot of bad people out there and he is a good one and that he will not mess with me. He doesn’t work for commission. He says, “My mother says that I am good but she doesn’t really know. Only I know and all I can tell you is that I am good and hope that you will believe me.” Of course, I believed him. Why wouldn’t I?

The next morning we had made plans to meet at 11 – communication had been an issue here in India, because of the foreign cell numbers and area codes etc., I couldn’t even text without issue. So I met him in person, down the street and around the corner so as not to upset the hotel staff. They have their own drivers and don’t like other drivers soliciting on their turf.

The other two girls were not feeling the greatest, so I went on my own and met Ali. He asked me what I wanted and he said, “I take you wherever you want and for as long as you want. Today, this Took-Took is your Took-Took,” and he did. We went to a few monuments, then we started looking at leather shops. As we went, he told me stories of his parents and his 4 sisters in broken English and I ate them up as though they were material for my new book and maybe they will be.

He told me of his life as the middle child, two older sisters and two younger sisters. They all were married now and gone to live with their husbands, assuming the role that generations before had assumed, just property. Now his mother and father needed him to supply the income. I asked how much he made each day. He said, about 800 Rupees. (20 bucks per day) From that, 200 went to the rickshaw rental, 100 for fuel, and the rest to his mother the following morning.

He told me how he started working as a 10 year old, and had only completed grade 2. My heart sank. I saw this 26 year old man hardened and uneducated, dying to help India evolve, but unable to do so because he could not read or write. My mind raced to the possibilities that were within him, but I knew that my hopes and dreams for him were much grander than his own. How could he have any hopes or dreams when he wondered how to pay the electric bill from month to month.

I asked him about a wife. He said, “I cannot marry because I have no balance in my account. Here in India, you can only ask for a wife when you can afford one.” Again, I felt a twinge deep in my soul – maybe in the old world India, at least you could have a wife, even if you had no money to offer. Now, in the new and improving India, you couldn’t even have that. Again, I wondered at the fate of India, with the oppression of the women – I mean, maybe if they were allowed to work and generate income for the family, the family could at least have a chance of a little prosperity.

He told me about his ‘girlfriend’ who lived behind his house. He had known her for a long time and loved her, but she didn’t know it yet. He had to get that balance in his account first, before he could tell her. I said that you should tell her now, because life is short and you may never have that balance in your account and then, she will never know and you may miss out. He nodded, his big brown eyes showing a hint of sadness at this thought.

We went from leather shop to leather shop looking at bags and shoes, and buying the odd one here and there, and Ali became my true guide. “Too expensive,” he would whisper in my ear, and I would in turn, offer lower, and when the shop keeper didn’t meet my price, I would leave. Ali would smile as I got into the car, saying, “Nice work,” or “He would have gone lower.”

I was looking for a small purse that went over the shoulder and had the pouch in the middle. It is a somewhat European style and I have seen them occasionally in North America. At each leather shop, Ali would jump out of the Took-Took and explain to the shop keeper exactly what I was looking for. He understood it well and would convey it in exacting detail. I wish he was able to find what he was looking for, as well, but maybe his cards have already been dealt.

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