I’ve been an editor, journalist, obsessive horsewoman and addicted traveler. I collect languages and met my husband while studying classical Chinese.
After twenty years in Singapore, Indonesia and Australia, I’m home, happy to be living in Great Barrington, Massachusetts with a Jack Russell terrier and her love slave, my Aussie husband Ron.
I have a sheaf of short stories that I’ve really enjoyed writing. I hope you will enjoy them too. Let’s start with a story from my travels to India. . . .
Kidnapped in Rajasthan
Copyright © Judith Shaw
In 2009 I went to India with an outfit called Relief Riders International. The idea was to hold medical clinics in remote villages in Rajasthan, bringing doctors and supplies into the heart of the Thar Desert. To pay the bills, Western tourists were invited to accompany the caravan on horseback.
In the middle of the trip, we enjoyed a much-needed day off in a medium-sized desert town. It was in the mountains, with cliffs and drop-offs and lots of thorny bushes. The shops were down below, and the houses meandered up the tracks to the top of the cliffs.
I was wandering around on my own when two boys, maybe 10 and 12 years old, accosted me. They were interested in the foreigners and wanted to communicate, but we had no common language. I didn’t know what they were after and was worried.
The younger boy took my hand and led me to a path winding up the side of the cliff. It was steep and stony, with thorny bushes the only handholds. It seemed to go on forever. I tried a few times to turn around and go back, but they got so upset that I kept on climbing.
The closer we got to the top of the cliff, the more houses we passed. Small cement buildings, piled on top of one another like apartment buildings, but more discrete. There were metal railings and lots of flowers. The path ended, but we continued to climb, up shallow concrete stairs with small structures built into the curves.
All this happened a long time ago, and the details are not clear in my mind. What I remember most is an ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ feeling, as if I couldn’t do anything but go along with whatever was unfolding.
The children chattered to each other and probably to me, too, but since I didn’t understand a word they said, it might as well have been Swahili. Every now and then someone would come out of a house, talk to the kids, and go back inside. They all seemed very pleased with the situation—whatever the situation actually was.
We finally reached the top, a wide paved area with a large house and garden on one side. The children went to the front door and called inside. The door opened, and a woman came outside to greet us. She was an older woman, probably in her 50’s, wearing a formal sari, not shalwar kameez.
The boys explained the situation and introduced me in words I couldn’t understand. She dismissed them and invited me to come inside.
I didn’t know whether to be terrified or delighted.
The house was cool and dark, much larger than it looked from outside. The woman showed me around, using body language and pantomime to get her message across.
She took me to a darkened room and opened the shutters. It was lined with shelves overflowing with books, all in English. The furniture was English, too, with crocheted antimacassars on the backs of the upholstered chairs.
The woman had a little English and told me that the books belonged to her husband, the district chief of police. He had been to school and knew much more English than she did.
Her house was, in fact, a palace. She was the adopted daughter of the last prince in the area, and as such was responsible for what went on in her domain. The children were her eyes and ears in the town below the cliffs, and they brought me to her as part of their intelligence-gathering responsibilities. They were extremely pleased with themselves.The next hour was dreamlike. She offered tea and sweet cakes, and with warnings about the dangers of unknown food ringing in my ears, I ate and drank what she prepared. Then she gave me a piece of glittery orange and yellow fabric, to use, I suppose as a dupatta, or shawl, and shiny glass bangles for my wrists.
What could I possibly give her in return? All I had was my crummy Timex, which she graciously accepted.
Her husband arrived, probably dragged up the hill by the children. His English was really very good, and he filled in the blanks in my conversation with his wife.
There was something magical about the whole experience. She was such a generous soul and had immense dignity. In entertaining me she only did what she saw as her duty to a stranger, but she did it with grace and generosity. Adopted or not, she clearly was a princess.
When my internal clock said it was time to leave, the children reappeared to escort me down the cliff. It had been a privileged visit to a really foreign land.