Since the start, Jyoti has lived in the India of the Indians, driven by an intense curiosity, profound appetite for learning and a vast open mind. During the years he got innumerable friends and immerged himself totally into local life wherever his journeys took him over the subcontinent. In 1990 he reached Rajasthan...
"Jyoti was a different child, right from childhood. When most others of his age were enjoying the experience to grow up in true western fashion, he was busy reading all about history, philosophy and religions. He was a well-read teenager and at 18, had grown weary of his way of life - he found it meaningless and far too materialistic. At this point he
decided to visit India."
"His complexion and grey eyes make no pretence to hide his Italian breeding, but his appearance and apparel, demeanour and accent compel us to doubt our own judgement.
A true villager by all means, he greets you, his hands folded, with a 'Ram Ram'." (The Times of India)
Jyoti in 1996
Following a friend to India
Jyoti completed art-school as a very promising drawer, but following his feelings he left for India in the end of 1980.
"The seventies were over, and with them all the dreams of a generation older than mine. It was a time of disillusion, the 80's were opening up into that feeling of impotence and apathy that inevitably occurs whenever ideals fall.
The new generation, brought up in the age of consumerism, seemed just to be concerned with a good fashionable look. Born as I was in 1961, I found myself to be in between two ages, too young or too old, neither of one or the other generation. It is so that I followed a friend to India...
I was just 19, my first time abroad, no much money I had, not a word of English I knew.
Suddenly I found myself there; it was definitely another world! I found myself utterly ignorant and at the same moment that I realised this, I accepted it. I surrendered to it so totally that automatically I just started learning and never stopped doing so".
"It was the end of March, the beginning of the hot season in Maharashtra, the state of Bombay. A town, anyone, was lying at some distance behind the last old colonial villas. Immersed in gardens full of blossom, the villas were at the edge of the countryside which was spotted with villages between a wide river and a railway track.
Not dissimilar to many foreigners also my companion and I rented a little room in one of those quiet villages".
For Jyoti's friend it was the fourth time in India and he spoke enough English not to be discriminated by the other foreigners.
"I was much with the Indians so to develop a mixed up idiom of Hindi-English which definitely hindered me from getting any close to those foreigners. By the way I hadn't much to do with them at all, and soon my friend and I went separate ways".
In those days there was no vaccination for hepatitis - or if there was, nobody had informed him of it - so after a few months Jyoti got sick. After five days of drip and medicines he got well and also was cleaned up of the last money, and it was still one month until his flight back to Italy...
The end and new beginning
Without money, all that he had learned from the Indians proved its real utility. With surprise he saw that there was no problem with food "...being so cheap you just get it! The climate too is so pleasant that you need nothing at all! And if you have nothing, then you have nothing to lose and you are free!".
"It was from a few days that I was realizing my new state of consciousness, about this new awareness, a few days that I was taking the first steps into this unknown new state of being and I was moving around a lot".
Just behind the railway tracks there were the quarters for the railway workers. There Jyoti met a cheerful family cramped in a small room of just a few square metres and they got so close to each other that he moved in to stay with them, for twenty days he ate with them and he slept at their threshold under a mango tree in the garden.
When the time came to go back to Italy, he left them leaving more than just his sleepingbag ... "We didn't forget each other and for all the time that I remained in Italy we wrote letters, and I sent them some money too. Back in India it was straight to them that I went and it was really coming back home".
The first ten years
Jyoti used to follow his Indian family in all
their transfers and wherever they went he was looked upon as the foreign son of the
engine-driver S.K. Pillay. It was with them that he learned much of his Hindi, English,
their strange alphabets and much more.
"But it was the life in the railway quarters itself, which was to be the best of schools, so like only a cantonment can be. Because our division, the 'South Centre Railways',
embraces the three states Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, you could in these quarters find people from any part of south India. A Hindu family from Tamil Nadu living side by side with a half-Portuguese Christian from Goa, next to a Muslim from Hyderabad, door by door with a Jewish family from Kerala!
Even out of the railway quarters, those towns had much of variety. Beside the many castes of the local population there were Rajasthany tradesmen and sweet-makers, Tibetan refugees selling woollen sweaters, Nepalese watchmen and soldiers, Sikh taxi drivers and shopkeepers. Much more there were half
naked tribal people from the jungles coming to the market, colourful gypsies of
Iranian origin, saints and insanes from nowhere".
Read more: Jyoti and Pillay family
The rail-driver S.K. Pillay, a beanpole Tamil man, was driving one of the last steam engines up and down on the same monotonous track, the short distance between a little station at the border of the luxuriant tropical Jungle of northwest Karnataka and a paper-mill. He was a simple Indian rail-driver as there are many, with wife, children, and the common related problems. Just in one thing he was definitely different from his colleagues, his elder son who wrote him from abroad during all the summer was not emigrated, he was indeed a foreigner!
When in the previous year (1985) the Pillay family arrived at the little station of Alnawar following a new order of transfer, they had arrived with this Italian boy that they used to treat like a real son. A twenty-five year old boy dressed in local attire and speaking a Hindi-English mix language with some words loaned from Maharati and even from Urdu! From the 'indianized' pronunciation of a part of his Italian name (Enzo Di), which in at least one occasion had been written as 'N. Jodi', he was called Jyoti.
Jay Mary, the mother in the family -as motherly woman as not many are- told the neighbour women of the little railway quarters, how a few years earlier the boy had been called into her house by one of her daughters. The friendship between the Pillay family and this stranger boy soon turned into an affection so deep that, when in the end he had to leave, they fell for days in a deep sorrow, and wrote him quickly to come back as soon as possible to them. Every year after the summer's Monsoon he would arrive without delay to pass all the winter with them.
He now learnt more of Hindi and English from his brothers and sisters Pillay, and also Devanagari and Kannada alphabets. With Muslim children in the quarters he also learned the Urdu alphabet.
Of course the Pillays used to speak their mothers-tongue Tamil between themselves. Anyway, being Christians and having lived for years in a town visited by foreigners, all of them could speak also enough English. More than that, thanks to the polyglot life of the railway quarters in a border region, the big ones as like as the little ones of the family could fluently speak Maharati, Kannada, Hindi and Telgu... Even papa Pillay, who followed the footprints of his father rail worker in the state of Goa at the time of the Portuguese, hadn't studied in a Tamil school. None of them was then able to read the Tamil alphabet and papa Pillay for instance was more at easy to read in Kannada and English...
This year too the Monson was over. Jyoti would arrive punctually after a few days, bringing with him gifts to everybody. The best gift would of course be to have him again back home!
With his open nature Jyoti easily got new friends in the surrounding villages and continued to discover the country
"... especially by taking lifts with the trucks - a very common way of travelling for the locals and one of the best for sure".
Every summer Jyoti used to go back to Italy, not only to get a new visa but because the summer in his little village in the Sicilian mountains is really nice.
"I also missed my books a lot and the time for a deep reading, especially about ancient history, philosophy and religions - this to gather knowledge about the past and from this understand the present. If in India I am much in the practical, in the west I am more in the theory".
One year in Italy he saw that it was more convenient for him to fly to Kathmandu instead of to Bombay and he decided to have a change. Over the years he spent all together one year in Nepal, and of course even there with the local people and in local dress. He stayed with the Nepalese as well as with the Tibetans.
There he also got good contact with many foreigners and sometimes he led some of them to a deeper look and understanding of the surroundings. After being in Nepal he used to spend the rest of the winters in Uttar Pradesh in north India.
Following a very close friend from east Uttar Pradesh (R.K. Sharma) back to his village to celebrate his wedding, Jyoti reached Rajasthan in 1990.
"My friend suggested to me that I should stay there with him forever. The idea was good but something went wrong with his projects and instead, my friend ended up settling in Delhi. Because of this I was left in a big house, not alone though, all the village was with me".
Jyoti moved around a lot in the area, mostly by foot, gaining more and more new experiences and friends.
In 1992 he guided a couple from Sicily for twenty days, so thanks to them he could see the country through a tourist's point of view visiting forts, towns and museums!
In 1993 he met an old Rajput (the legendary warrior caste) from the Pushkar Valley, who was very impressed by Jyoti's behaviour and invited him to his village Nand.
"Pushkar appears to be a very corrupted and touristic place which I happily would have avoided, but this old Rajput man became like a brother to me and I would continue to visit him every year. The valley itself is beautiful and the people was still quite traditional, the red turbaned Gurjar (cow shepherds), yellow turbaned Rawat and the white turbaned Jat (farmers), proudly wearing their traditional dress".
Since he feels closer in spirit to a nomad, Jyoti was happy to change his former turban to a red one - the symbol of a shepherd - which a Gurjar offered him.
There, Jyoti ended up buying a camel and after two months he had not only learnt how to ride but also how to take care of it. Then one day he set off and all alone he rode more than 400 km towards the north-east, from the Pushkar valley to the state of Haryana.
"This made me a reasonable camel rider so I could later help some friends who work with tourists and on one occasion I accompanied a group during a 12 day ride to Jaisalmer".
Read more: Jyoti and his 400 km on camel
For sure Jyoti is not the first not the last foreigner who bought a camel, but most probably he is one of the few that handled it well, and quite surely that one who invested in it lesser stress and money.
"One who doesn't know anything about camels, especially if he is a foreigner, is bound to be more or less cheated", says Jyoti. "The idea to buy a camel matured slowly in my mind and it came only thanks to the chance I had to have a friend like the old Rajput of Nand available as an expert, and also because I had all the time I needed".
In a period of over a month Jyoti could get a discrete idea about quality and prices, and on which kind of camel he was in need of.
"I willingly avoided the camel fair of Pushkar where between so many choices and thousands of offerings, I would get completely lost. In Nand and in the nearby villages where so many camel-cart-men came and went, between a speech and another it would instead be easier to be able to examine a camel, estimate the right price etc."
It is so that after having seen a lot of camels, the right one was found. It was not old but just worked out, and the owner who wanted to get rid of it was asking a convenient price.
"For an Indian who uses it to pull heavy loaded carts, a weakened camel is useless. Such camel needs much care and expenses to get back in shape so it was difficult that any buyer would offer much for it. For me who was in need of a quite animal it was the ideal solution: for little money it was a good mount".
After the time needed to find a nice saddle and to make ready all the rest of the equipment, Jyoti started to get used to ride him and as well as to take care of him.
"It was not I who owned the camel, but the camel that owned me!" says Jyoti, who from the first light of the day had to feed him, give him water and pick up his dung. Every two or three days he had also to ride him up to Pushkar for a load of camel fodder. In two months time he could not leave him a single moment.
The rest of the time Jyoti was riding around, reaching every corner of the valley, and even now after so many years all the people of the region remember him. Then, having learned enough, Jyoti decided that he was ready for a long journey.
The ideal route would have been to ride deeper into the desert towards Jaisalmer or Bikaner, but because the time to go back to Italy was approaching, Jyoti decided to go to Haryana instead, towards Delhi, in the opposite direction.
"Ending the trip, and before leaving to Italy, I would had to sell the camel and it would be easier with help by the friends I have there, in Haryana".
Going in that direction he also could make journey-breaks in the villages of his friends around Jaipur and those near Khotputli, where it would be also simpler for him to get fodder at the right price. Jyoti was aware of how buying fodder would be the only real problem to face on the trip, so he left Nand with a good load of fodder with him...
"I proceeded enough slowly without hurry but with a few stops. I was looking for roads preferably not metalled. Wherever I arrived I was welcomed with great affection, but most with surprise. The villagers could not believe their own eyes - was he really a foreigner this camel rider? If so, why wasn't he going by bus?"
At every stop Jyoti had somehow to try to explain the reason of his riding trip...
Pushkar is a holy place where every year under the full moon of November it is celebrated a sacred festival.
At the same time, the biggest cattle fair of the subcontinent takes place outside the town, with thousands of camels gathered.
At the camel fair in 1995 Jyoti met a group of the camel shepherd caste Raika/Rabari from the Godwar, who every year came from afar to sell the camel-offspring. They are like other nomads: very proud, close to each other, very suspicious of others and in general a very reserved people, but they became curious when they saw Jyoti.
So when one of those Raika/Rabari challenged him to follow them on their way back to their villages, Jyoti made the very hard, week long walk leading back the camel kids, and after that he gained some of the confidence of the Raika/Rabari and a lot of their respect.
Read more: Jyoti with the Raika from Pushkar to Jojavar
The Camel Fair being over, the majority of the Raika were going back home by bus as they had come as just a few of them were following the herds. Many groups staying with the camels had already left the day before, others in the morning, but the group of Jyoti moved away with their herd only in the afternoon. So when they stopped for the first night's campfire they had just left behind the limits of the valley.
Of the four Raika with whom Jyoti founds himself, only one was from the Godwar (the southern region of Pali district in south Rajasthan), the others were Maru, the Raika of Marwar (the region that, with its centre in Jodhpur, forms the heart of western Rajasthan). In contrast with the Raika of Godwar, Sirohi and Jalor, the Maru Raika are not much recognisable as they, except their women-folk, discontinued to wear their traditional costume. Most characteristic though, is their rose-pink turban, even if they do not dislike other colours too, especially the ever-present saffron...
The Raika of the Godwar use to keep the old traditional costume unchanged even if they nowadays start to choose more often synthetic fabrics. They still wear their classic jewellery and accessories, and also the typical red turban that in the recent times though have become enormous.
Jyoti and three of the Raika followed by foot the column of a score of young camels. Leading the herd was an old headman riding on the only camel-mount they had.
Every one carried his own knapsack. One carried also a cooking pot and another one a special clay vessel for water. The walking speed was almost at a run to catch up with the long steps of the young camels, but they were only letting the camels to slow down rarely, just to make them quickly nibble at some leaves. The night stops were made when it had become already deep dark. Quickly after tying the legs of the camels not to make them sneak away, the baklas and blankets of camel hair were unrolled around the fire, and the typical round, flat Indian bread -the roti- was put to bake on a pan over the flames. Having with them no grown up she-camels to milk, the roti were gulped down accompanied only with black tea.
The moment to wake up arrived like a stroke, long before the sunrise. There was just a minute to drink the umpteenth black tea before being again on the move, at the same time the roti got baked but they were to be eaten on the way... In this rush the journey continued, all days long up to the nights at the same speed, an exaggerated hurry that Jyoti didn't understand the reason for. During the days not more than a couple of very short stops were made, just the time it took to make ready the tea and grassing the camels a bit. If someone of them had to stop a second for a pee the others wouldn't wait for him, and he had to run to catch up with them again.
That's how the Raika revealed themselves: a wildness and frugality basically cultural.
After a full week walking fourteen hours a day, they reached the Jojavar village where Jyoti with a nasty blister on a foot, had to stop. But now he had passed like a sort of initiation and when after getting better he reached Godwar, the voice of his deed had spread and the Raika had become somehow less suspicious and more open.
"In November 1996 I was in the Pushkar valley again waiting for the camel market and the Raika/Rabari. Almost every day I used to walk the nine kilometres from Nand to Pushkar without a real reason. Even if I some times had to send a letter or phone home, most of the time I was just going to sit for a while at the Sunset Café, just for curiosity, or maybe was I looking for some one?...".
When Nashi went to India her desire was to reach beyond the surface to discover India's reality, already having a feeling she would become a part of it. Following that feeling she reached Rajasthan and found herself merged with the population of the desert, becoming absorbed into the ancient, fascinating culture of the shepherds…
"Elin changed Swedish life into a life among Indian shepherds. … She feels that one of the best things with the way she lives her life is that she has learnt living in the present and making 100% out of it."
"Nashi wears the conventional lehenga-choli and lots of silver jewellery. She has learned to make thread-braided jewellery of many hues ... learned to cook, tend to cattle, milk cows and do the other chores that any other village woman would." (Jetwings Magazine)
Nashi in 1998
The decision of going to India
"I very early felt that the place where I was born wasn't the place where I could remain and I was asking myself how I could understand the world if I didn't experience it in all its aspects and expressions? How I could get to know the depths of life if I wouldn't create the possibility to experience in its totality? How could I learn from life if I would see just a part of it? How could I get to know myself in a restricted environment? I wanted to create a possibility to live life as fully and freely as possible."
Nashi was 20 when, moved by hearing a song from Rajasthan, she decided to go to India.
"The song penetrated my being deeply as an arrow. Maybe it was a remembrance from the past or maybe a calling from the future, but my heart was suddenly longing to a place I had never heard about.. and within short time I booked my ticket. I was already sure that I was going to remain in India and while leaving everything behind in Sweden, I gathered strength from this intense feeling I had inside, too abstract to explain with logic but too real to deny."
Arriving in India
Arriving in India, Nashi went straight to the mountains, to an Indian family of which she had got the address.
"They were living outside of Rishikesh, a small town at the feet of the Himalayas, the house was situated lonely on a mountain slope, embedded in rich verdure. The view over the valley and the Ganges river, still steaming in the heat after the last Monsoon rains, was overwhelming."
Trough this family she got the first contact with the Indian reality that she was looking for.
"From the woman of the family I got advices on how to move around in town and the price of different things. She helped me to buy a Salwar-Kameez, a local women dress, and in the evenings I helped her in the kitchen while having some nice conversations, and started to learn some Hindi."
"When talking with other foreigners in town, who described the arrival to India as quite a shock, I realized how instead I had immediately felt a deep sense of being at home, it was like returning to something already well known. I was just enjoying, feeling more harmonious than ever before. I didn't feel like a traveler on a visit, but I felt like melting into everything around me. I was eager to discover my new world and spent my time with the family, in the bazaars, walking along the river bank or just sitting watching the Indian crowds taking their ritual baths in the river."
After some days, Nashi left for Gangotri from where she walked to the Ganges source at the height of 4300 meters.
"While following the river valley on narrow footpaths leading higher and higher towards the glacier, I was met by an immense natural beauty, peaks of 7000 meters shining above the valley, so many flowers at the slopes and a vast silence. It was a beautiful experience"
Nashi headed back to the plains, and Delhi was the first stop.
"Many see the capital as just a transit place, and I had heard many horror stories, but I thought to give it a chance, I wanted to discover this town, experience it. Life has many sides and if cutting out just the best part it would not be complete, so I decided to stay for a while."
While discovering different parts of the city, she befriended a Tibetan family with whom she lived closely.
"I shared their days and late meals, I followed them on their visits to the Tibetan refugee camps and to their friends there, I followed them to their worship in the temples and the meetings with the monks. It was a journey into an unknown part of the town."
Towards the desert
Nashi moved towards what she had had in mind for a long time, Rajasthan. With a desire to come close to the desert life of villages far away from towns and tourist places she reached Pushkar for the huge camel fair.
"Climbing up a hill in the town I could see the camels entering the valley, and while the sun was setting over the desert a deep longing struck me to head out there. I felt to reach the heart and soul of the land I saw before me, but how? I had no idea but felt that I was ready for any kind of adventure."
"Pondering about the possibilities, I thought that at the fair I would be able to meet with those families who had come from the villages with their cattle, and making friendship I might follow some of them back, but not knowing yet much Hindi and seeing that there were only men, I arrived to a standstill."
Just as a gift from heaven, an extraordinary coincidence or a play of destiny, after a few days Nashi met Jyoti. While walking together in midst of thousands of camels, he told her about his life in the villages and she told him about her wishes. After a few days Jyoti introduced her to the village of Nand and the house of his old Rajput friend.
"While the song I've heard in Sweden echoed in my heart, the dry lands welcomed me, the wide openness received me, the horizon always in front of me, my feet on their own path. I was at home. Only that I knew for sure, everything else was purely unknown."
Nashi and Jyoti soon discovered how much they had in common, their feelings and expectations of life were the same.
"A shepherd with green eyes is not so rare in Rajasthan, but a shepherd and villager who speaks English is rare, and a Rajasthani shepherd who is actually a foreigner is something completely unique. After a short time I understood that this unique shepherd understood also all my thoughts, my dreams and my soul. It was something unbelievable. For the first time in my life I had found someone like me a and I felt immediately that his life was mine and he felt that he was a part of mine."
The first steps into village life
From now she started to dress like a Gurjari, a cow shepherd woman, with a thick black cotton skirt, a top and a black veil.
"Immediately I felt comfortable in my new dress. The veil, I realized, was the best clothing I could think of, protecting me from the hot sun and the cold wind as well as serving as a blanket in the night."
While starting to teach her Hindi and explaining her about the Indian society and culture, Jyoti took Nashi around in the countryside, visiting his many friends in the villages. They traveled sometimes on camel but mostly by walking. Nashi adapted surprisingly quick to the harsh climate and the discomforts and struggles of the simple rural life.
A multidimensional experience
"I was diving into the reality and life of the desert people, becoming every day more a part of it. I felt like a child again, so new everything was different. I had to accept that I knew nothing, and start from the beginning with everything. Getting used to the physical hardships and many discomforts were the easiest things. More challenging was to learn the social and cultural rules and start to act in accord of them, letting go totally of all habits, behavioral patterns and moral from my past."
"Culture, traditions, rules of behaving and relating and ways of see and reflect upon things are differing between the various folk groups, castes and religious group. What I learnt in one home I couldn't apply in another, I had to see all the differences and similarities and behave accordingly. It was very interesting because seeing both my old and new world it came clear what was just cultural, social and mental structures and what was the reality beyond, and seeing myself in the old and new contest I saw what of myself was just superficial and what was really me."
"I went through years and years of just learning, in every second learning and continuously making mistakes, all the time feeling insecure, weak and tired and always being tried. I had to develop full awareness of what was going on around me, in every instant. Being here and now in this very moment was a must, and the present was too full to do otherwise, it happened automatically. It was a long and arduous journey, but by and by I learnt and felt more confident. I managed to get respected and become strong and secure to handle any situation, and so I gained access to my new world. It was a conquest which covered not only the outer world, but also the inner. Except getting to know more about myself, about my fears and difficulties, my strength and capacities, the grown awareness was an awakening, and this opened up to a new life."
"I had always Jyoti there to help me, instruct me, support me, teach me and protect me. His patience, energy and strength were immense, his intelligence and intuition incredible sharp, all which had carried him through all his years of adventures in India. I had struggled a lot, but I realized he must have struggled before me in a way no one can imagine. While I had had him beside me, he had been all alone. Now he gave me all the keys I needed, he opened all the doors for me to live in this world, and he gave me all the clues to understand it, he helped me to open the eyes to reality and open the inner eyes to understand who I was."
Of course, a knowledge that Jyoti not could offer in detail was about the female side of the Indian life. Nashi did well on her own and now she is participating fully in the work of the women as one of them, as a sister, a daughter, a mother. She collects wood and fetches water, cooks food, milks the cattle and takes care of the children. She has a deep relation with the women.
"Coming from the west, where women have been repressed and denied for centuries, and lately competing very hardy with men on men's premises, it was a surprise and relief to see the village women being so contented and completely relaxed in their being women. They struck me with a natural femininity and grace I had not met before. They expressed such softness but I saw that their strength and power was amazing.
In the beginning I noticed that they were quite suspicious towards me. Even if I sat together with them in their homes I didn't feel they had much will to welcome me, on the contrary, they kept their world closed and always tried me in a hundred of ways to check my reactions and behavior. Not knowing their codes of behavior and not feeling secure in my own womanhood it was very hard and I felt very lonely, but when I started to learn everything and behave, act, and speak like a village woman myself, meanwhile relaxing more and more into my own womanhood, they got confidence in me and the relation could happen. Now they see me just like any other of them.
It has been very fascinating journey in itself and it feels like a privilege being able to enter into this hidden dimension of Indian life and become a part of it, I can enjoy such beautiful moments of female community, power, care and intimacy I never felt in the west. Through them I could rediscover the woman that I am."
"Now I have experience both to be a modern western woman and an Indian village woman and I am happy that I am able to compare in such fair way. The facts have become very obvious of the positive and negative sides of both the opposite ways of being and living, and I can merge them to find a more balanced state."
Gaining a rare knowledge
Like everywhere, even in the farthest villages, the change to modernity is quickly approaching. For instance, there are not many people left who wear the beautiful traditional dress as original as Jyoti and Nashi do. Only a few elderly people have some details left and even less people know how to make them.
These are things of village tradition and of course you cannot find them in shops. Nashi has to make her own dress and she takes deep care and has a lot of passion to learn the traditional and original ways of hand stitching all sorts of traditional clothes, embroidering them with the proper caste patterns and producing many thread plaited jewellery. She is becoming a rare keeper of exquisite art, of a handicraft thousands of years old.
"I am learning an art that is quickly vanishing. I try to grasp and preserve the knowledge of the old women and men, about all their life and traditions, thoughts and experiences. I always ask them how the past was. When these elders will be no more, the knowledge and an ancient culture will be lost".
Both Jyoti and Nashi moved to India following their hearts, a dream, an innate passion. Their ways crossed in Rajasthan and two lives and souls became one. During the years, they have acquired unique experiences from the very inside of Indian society, in a very close relation with its people, which is built on respect and understanding...
"... they put up at Jaisalmer for ten days and the desert brought them closer. They got a chance to peep into each other's soul and mind. Both discovered that they were seekers of the same destination." (Times of India)
"Both have completely adapted themselves to the village way of life. ... Both are teetotalers and practice vegetarianism ... They both would like to stay in the rough desert countryside and lead a quiet, nomadic life ... in harmony with nature."
Meeting Gazi Khan Barna
After ten days in Nand, at the Camel Fair and the Pushkar Valley, still new in India, Nashi was eager to see more of the country. Via Mertha and Jodhpur she and Jyoti went to Jaisalmer, the 'Golden City' pearl of the desert.
On the train from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer Jyoti and Nashi had the venture to meet the famous folk singers Gazi Khan Barna and Anwar Khan of the Manganiar musicians' community. They told about a camel fair in Jaisalmer that was approaching, where they were going to perform.
See: Gazi Khan Barna and Anwar Khan in concert
Gazi Khan Barna and Anwar Khan in concert al ‘Théâtre de la Ville de Paris’ – France
Gazi Khan well impressed by Jyoti told him how his uniqueness and deep knowledge should be used to promote Rajasthan. In so many years in India Jyoti had been aloof, never consent to be interviewed, but the speech with Gazi Khan, as well as with Nashi, made him more open. As Gazi told, Jyoti could really be a link between two cultures, two worlds, a special chance for visitors to meet with the Real India of the Indians... "You definitely should get in touch with the Department of Tourism Art and Culture of Rajasthan", he said. It is so that, when in Jaisalmer Jyoti stepped by the inauguration of the camel fair, for the first time in his life got available to the questions of the journalists which came to be assembled around him.
The first winter
With the approaching of the cold, Jyoti considered taking Nashi to the south and visit his Indian family. They went by train three days and nights, along the Indian west coast towards the state of Karnataka, arriving in the middle of a warm and tropical night to the village of the Pillay family. The mother and father so like all the brothers and sisters, being Christians, got particularly happy to have them home for Christmas.
Spending one month with them Nashi got nice opportunities to learn about the south of India too, so different from the north.
On the journey back they went via Kutch - the salt desert region of western Gujarat - and then hitchhiking the last days of the way to Rajasthan. For Jyoti it was the first time he hitchhiked with a woman, but they met no surprise, it is not uncommon for Indian village women to travel in such way.
Having seen enough of India, Nashi wanted a 'base', a place to make home with Jyoti. She desired an own hearth around which to live with the village women, a place where to be able to receive guests and going on in her learning of traditional textile works and handicrafts. Jyoti wanted it too, but first he wanted to be able to get a longer visa.
Beside their life with the shepherds they visited Jaisalmer (97-98), where they thought to have had a good start, and Bikaner (99-2002)...
How suggested by Gazi Khan, they also have been in Jaipur, to the Tourism Department of Rajasthan where they are much appreciated. Tourist officer Mrs. Kaneez Bhatti got so well impressed, not only to put up a real press session in her own house inviting journalists and engaging her husband (Mr. Liaqat A. Bhatti, photographer) for a full coverage, but writing herself an article about them.
Read: Extract from the article of Mrs. Kaneez Bhatti
Extract from the article in KADAMBNI by Kaneez Bhatti Department of Tourism, Art & Culture, Rajasthan - Jaipur
"To see two foreigners dressed like Gurjar coming into my office surprised me a lot. And I was much more surprised to see them, after greeting me and taking seat in front of me, start to express their questions in Hindi! I'm quite used to seeing many foreigners indeed but with these two, I felt just as if it was an ordinary Gurjar couple from any Rajasthani village, I was speaking to! ... This urged me to ask them how they decided to embrace the Rajasthani Gurjar culture and what they liked so much of it so that they also learnt how to speak Hindi so well, and Jyoti speaks Hindi even better than Hindi speakers themselves.
... It's as if Jyoti and Nashi have something not completed here from theirs past lives, which takes them here where their souls are attached. This must be the reason of their love for Rajasthan and its people, which is so strong that every time their visa expires, they become so sad that it seems like they are being forced away from their own home.
We are dreaming of going from village to town, from town to big city and from big city to foreign countries and these people from abroad have come to our villages. It looks as if the time is near when people of western cultures ... tired of modernization and mechanization comes backwards looking for fresh air, genuine food and space. It is as if it's nature's law that after reaching the highest top of knowledge, human being has to come back to where all began."
(Extract freely translated by Jyoti from an article in Hindi printed in KADAMBNI magazine Sept 1999)
Many articles were appearing in Newspapers and Magazines in India as well as in Sweden, and their participation at various Rajasthan festivals made them soon very well known.
In Sweden, where they use to spend some time every autumn, Nashi was invited to give a lecture at Indiska Magasinet Ltd. and then, with Jyoti, she was asked to take care of a Swedish expedition to India (‘Camel Caravan 1999’).
See: Swedish expedition to India (‘Camel Caravan 1999’)
Since then Nashi continued to give lectures and, with Jyoti, to take tourists to the desert.
Per Kåks, Director of The National Museum of Ethnography - Sweden, encouraged them in their idea to collect items and information about the material culture of the shepherds.
The Gov. of India Tourist office, promote and recommend them. The Embassy of Italy, New Delhi availed of their collaboration in (99-2000) and the Embassy of Sweden avails of their knowledge (Nashi was invited to speak about the condition of women in India, before the women organization of the Scandinavian embassies, in occasion of the International Women Day - 2001).
After the second year they were granted the much-coveted long visa.
In 2000 Jyoti and Nashi created www.marustali.net website with the idea to reach more people who may have an interest in their experience. Consequently they started increasingly to share their knowledge, in the west mostly by lectures and in India though offering know-how and guiding, Hindi courses and handicraft workshops.
Having been addressed as ‘THE KEY TO INDIA’ by an official of Govt. of India Tourist Office, Jyoti and Nashi choose this name for their exclusive service.
Offering the unique chance to a visit to India on a deep level, they rigorously take care to train and instruct the visitors on how to adjust to the local customs and how to behave and dress in accordance with the situation so that they may get the best experience without by any means disturb or create a negative impact on the local environment and people.
It has turned out to be a very positive experience for the visitors as well as for the villagers who, relying on their trust of Jyoti and Nashi, dare to give voice to their curiosity and enjoy the meeting with these unusual visitors. Explains Nashi: "It becomes an exchange of experience and understanding on a base of mutual respect. That’s what we want!"
Based on the same philosophy they also offer tours for agencies. From 2003 Nashi organizes and leads the special ‘Women Tours’.
See: Women Tour to Rajasthan
Nashi's Women Tour is taking the travellers to the innermost of the Indian culture and life. It follows the Indian society from tradition to development, meeting rural women of farmer and shepherd families in Rajasthan, via middleclass house wives in small towns, ending up meeting modern well-educated women in Jaipur and Delhi.
During this journey issues like women's role in education, politics, healthcare and judicial system, are also discussed and meetings arranged with women concerned with this questions.
"... a fantastic tour and a unique insight into Rajasthan. The meetings with the women are unforgettable and all future travelling will have very difficult to match this experience." [Karin Lundbäck]
Next tour: November 2011 with Gränslösa Resor Official sponsor of Marustali
For information: www.granslosaresor.se
In 2001 they created Organization Marustali and launched the Project Marustali for the work of preserving the knowledge about the shepherd’s vanishing lifestyle, traditions and handicrafts, and they have since then been working with photo documentation, collection of materials, and started a small production of textile handicrafts.
Meanwhile Jyoti and Nashi continue to live the simple every-day rural life. Since 2004 they are settled more permanently in a small village situated in the Pushkar valley, chosen not only for its supreme beauty and the presence of a large Gurjar population, but because lying so conveniently at the centre of the state it offers a good break-journey point from destination to destination and Pushkar let them fulfill the needs to be more reachable for their work as ‘THE KEY TO INDIA’. In addition, it is there where every year in November thousands of camels are gathered for the Camel Fair, pivotal point to meet Raika/Rabari friends coming from afar with news...
Apart from the daily work of household chores Nashi relaxes with the intimate relation with the neighbor women and Jyoti continue to participate in the life of the men and move wide-around by walk in the valley, keeping the connections they enjoy in all the area.
Nashi’s wishes of an own home and hearth have finally come true: "I enjoy having an own place where to return and where to keep our belongings, but quite soon our souls are longing away again, the legs become restless, the eyes become glued on the horizon of the wilderness… we are born nomads…"
In the winter 2010, with the desire to offer a better opportunity to visitors to Marustali, Jyoti and Nashi established a city base in the periphery of Pushkar, at the retreat Sukha's Place of their friend Sukhdev Larna. www.marustali.net/sukhasplace