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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

India: Yogi and Babaji

Yogi (on the left) and Urma
Yogi (on the left) and Urma, during our visit to Urma's urban farm

In reading the story of Yogi and Babaji, bear in mind that throughout the experience I had a song going through my head, namely Sheryl Crow's ode to kiss-and-tell journalism, 'The Book'. Here's an excerpt:

Never again
Would I see your face.
You carry a pen and a paper
And no time
And no words you waste.
You're a voyeur,
The worst kind of thief,
To take what happened to us,
To write down everything that went on
Between you and me.

Is that me? Am I being a voyeur, stealing the (possibly) good intentions of two traders to provide me with an interesting story? I don't think I am, but judge for yourself. Personally, I don't think the following is so much 'kiss and tell' as 'get him pissed and sell'.

Yogi to the Rescue

Nirma and Rupei
Nirma (left) and her mother Rupei, owners of the milk farm we visited in the middle of downtown Jodhpur

Let me tell you a story. On my arrival in Jodhpur – the town that gives the trousers their name (though these days you'll see more jodhpurs in Gujarat than Rajasthan, as far as I can see) – I decided to book my onward train ticket straight away, to avoid having to rely on the local Louis to save the day again. Unfortunately the computers were down in the ticket office, so I joined the 'Tourists and Freedom Fighters' queue for what I assumed would be a long wait.

Evening Shenanigans

Rupei, Urma and a water buffalo
Rupei, Urma and their prize buffalo

That night I sat with Yogi, Babaji and a friend of theirs called, somewhat interestingly, Bob, and I never let my guard down. In a pique of pleasantry I had bought a gift with me: my collection of ten cassettes had long lost its appeal and my Walkman had never really recovered from the bus ride to Diu, so I gave my tapes and stereo to Yogi. This sounds awfully generous, but I was about to ditch them on the next traveller I could find who wanted them, because they were bulky and low fidelity brings me down. It doesn't seem to affect the Indian aural sensibilities though (judging by the quality of, er, hi-fi here), and I figured that Yogi, as a music teacher, might appreciate the gift.

The Gem Scam

Nirma, Rupei and Urma
One big, happy family

Some background information first. There is a classic scam operated by gem dealers, mainly in Agra and Jaipur, which makes use of the tourist's tax-free import allowance. Tourists from most western countries can import goods up to a certain value into their own country without paying import tax (currently the amount for the UK is US$5200); this is a fact, and it makes a lot of sense when you think of tourists buying gifts and souvenirs and bringing them home. The scam involves a gem dealer asking a tourist to import some stones for him, so the dealer saves paying the import tax, a portion of which goes to the tourist; all the gem dealer needs is a deposit from the tourist to cover the cost of the gems, and he will give an assurance that the tourist will be able to contact the dealer's partners in his home country, and they will buy the gems off him for much more than the deposit. So the tourist makes lots of money, and the dealer is happy because he makes a good sale.

The Sitar Scam

Urma and one of his flock
Urma and one of his flock

The original plan for the day had been to take the bikes out to a Rajasthani village to show me some real Indian life, but it was far too hot to hit the desert for an hour's drive, so instead Yogi and I settled in for a beer and a chat. I learned some interesting things, such as the fact that Yogi drank Rs200-worth of beer every day, which at least provided an explanation for his Ming-vase profile; but the most intriguing thing I learned was his total lack of understanding of my finances. He seemed genuinely surprised that I was not a rich tourist, and perhaps he realised I meant it when we got onto the subject of the sitar.

Urma's Farm

Urma and his water buffalo
Number one son Urma proudly posing with his water buffalo

That night Yogi, his farmer friend Urma and I hopped on the moped and span through the backstreets of early evening Jodhpur. This was fun; to give Yogi his dues he always drove slowly and carefully, an unusual trait in Asia, and we soon arrived at a sweet shop (where I bought a box of assorted sweets) and moved on to Urma's house.

Chance Meeting

The final chapter in this saga came the next day, my last day in Jodhpur, after I had visited the Mehrangarh Fort. Wandering back through the streets round the railway station, I saw Babaji wandering along and he spotted me straight away; Australian bush hats aren't exactly common fare in India. We went through the usual social niceties, and then I asked him where he'd disappeared to last night. He said, 'Oh, I was too hot, so I went home. Fancy a cold drink?' Too right I did, so we ducked into a chai shop for a couple of bottles of Pepsi. It was good to chat, and amazingly enough Yogi chose that moment to wander into the same chai shop, just as Babaji was telling me that he was on the way to one of his factories to get a ring made for another customer who was paying Rs7000 for a star ruby set in a silver ring. This was very good business for him in the off-season, and I congratulated him on his luck.