If you ever have the misfortune of imagining being kidnapped abroad, perhaps thoughts of bald, tattooed drug smugglers, hostage holders and even pirates spring to mind.
I was kidnapped in India…by a friendly, middle-aged school-teacher.
We were down by the river when she swooped in; trudging our way through thick, red mud. A woman dressed in a simple saree emerged from a local shop and begin to walk with us. We smiled politely and answered her stream of questions. “Who are you?” “Where are you from?” “Why are you here?” Questions soon turned to demands.
“You must come to my house.”
“It’s right here.”
“Just up here”
“You must come to my house now”
Ok, so it wasn’t like she had a gun or anything, but Indian women can be pretty forceful!
“Ok” I nodded nervously.
Don threw me a puzzled look, muttering under his breath “Let’s just go the other way!”
I couldn’t. It was a mixture of not wanting to disappoint, as well as being led under her spell of glistening bright colours and my own curiosity. My apprehensive feet followed this mysterious woman.
We walked up a narrow lane of houses, each proudly decorated by its own garden of perfectly potted plants. Shades of green foliage, banana trees and flowers surrounded each worn and crumbling building.
We removed our shoes at the doormat and this stranger led us into her house, proudly directing us towards the room with a fan (which also happened to be her bedroom.)
We learned her name was Rameesa.
She pulled out two plastic chairs from nowhere. A make-shift washing line dangled dangerously close to our heads with Rameesa’s undercrackers hanging in full view. As our lovely host scurried off to make the chai, I took in the view. The walls were bare and unpainted. Wires and plugs were sticking out from every corner at all angles.
“Why do you always get us into these situations Lor?!” Don whined, peeking out from behind a hanging bra.
I really didn’t think it was me. But then again maybe it was.
Rameesa emerged from the kitchen with freshly-brewed chai and a plate of those ‘delicious-looking’ half mouldy, spinach-like cookies we’d seen on every single side of the road cart and so carefully avoided up until this point.
Out of politeness, we finally managed to finish the suspicious- looking snacks. Big mistake. I had to choke back the laughter when she took her own cookie from her mouth, broke it into two pieces and insisted that we finish it. Don’s face was a picture. It was already killing him that he was drinking a random stranger’s chai, let alone eating her slobbery seconds!
After a long conversation, Rameesa led me out of the room into another bedroom. Was this the part where we all die? Has she lured us in here as a trap? Then she’ll separate us and rob us of everything we have? Is she some kind of serial killer? Does she pick off random backpackers, knowing no-one really knows where they are? Pose as friendly school-teacher then poison them with baked goods before chopping them up and planting them in the thousands of potted garden plants? Is that why they grow so well?
Hang on…she’s taking my t-shirt off! Hang about- maybe I’ve got this all wrong. Maybe I gave out the wrong signals! Maybe she thought I fancied her? Surely not! Suddenly, I saw she was laughing. At me! Gesturing how big my boobs were! Well, I’m glad someone found it so funny. It’s certainly not funny carrying them around every day. Before I knew it, I was dressed in a glittering, red saree wearing a golden necklace and clip-on earrings. I still have no idea why!
After taking about a hundred photos out on the porch (at Rameesa’s insistence) we told her we had to leave. The only way she was going to let us go was if we promised we’d visit her on our walk back…and so we did.
On our return, the best singer in the village came to sit with us outside the house. It’s quite a peculiar feeling when somebody begins to sing at you in foreign tongues. And slightly awkward when, despite not knowing what they are saying, you do know that they must be tone deaf!
“Isn’t she good, no?”
Both ladies smiled expectantly for our response.
I couldn’t look at Don. He couldn’t look at me. Instead we kept our eyes fixed on Alleppey’s most famous singing woman. Her hair was greying at the roots and she had a large furry mole on the left side of her cheek but a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. I couldn’t help but like her.
“Brilliant!” we both agreed. I could see Don’s shoulders shaking. Any minute now he was going to burst out laughing!
I began to wonder if singing lady was doing this on purpose. Was this all just a test to see how long we could go without exploding?
Eventually singing lady left. Rameesa looked through photos of our travels through India as we drank sweet black tea. It made me feel sad to know that she didn’t have a husband or children of her own. It also made me guilty that, despite us having the same job, she could not afford to travel and see the wonderful diversity of her own country as we had been able to. I left her house knowing two things that night. The first was, we are luckier than we realise. We have freedom. And the second was, the world is good. People are good. We live in a beautiful place.
All too often, too many people are focused on proving people are bad. That we live in a negative world of hatred where we all just want to fight against one another. You only have to switch on the news to see that. But really, people are good. People are kind. People are friendly. No matter where you are from, or what language you speak, you have more in common than you realise. Don’t always expect the worst from someone, they may just surprise you.