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Gypsies of Rajasthan

Gypsies are considered to be among the lowest castes in India. Alongside the endless dusty roads of the Rajasthani desert, gypsy camps dot the landscape. Their humble abodes are usually tents or tin shacks. Despite living in destitute conditions, the gypsies I met had great dignity and beauty. They carried themselves like royalty—some female sheepherders wore long flowing saris with elaborate silver jewelry—and it seemed as if they were dressed for a wedding or celebration rather than a day of hard labor in the hot sun. A handsome and noble looking male gypsy wearing a colorful red wrap over his shoulder looked as if he could have walked off the runways of fashion week in New York City. At one camp, the children and teens wore mischievous smiles and stared at me with soulful eyes. Some of them seemed like adults as though the circumstances of their life had forced them to grow up too soon.

The gypsies in the cities often work menial jobs at the side of the road. These jobs are considered dirty and below the standards of the rest of society. In general, they are shunned by the rest of the population. I often spotted gypsies hammering away at metal or soldering something which did not seem to have a practical use. The city gypsies were tougher and had more attitude than their rural cousins. They seemed both amused and annoyed when I asked to take their portrait. Many of the city gypsy women smoked, had tattoos, and wore low cut tops—a drastic contrast to the modest way most Indian women appeared in public.

The best moment of my time with the gypsies was when one young gypsy girl who was traveling with her family, sheep, and donkeys, playfully directed her white donkey to nudge me in the back causing me to jump in surprise. She laughed and then turned to leave with her family and animal entourage, heading to some unknown destination.

Maybe being a nomadic spirit myself made me a good gypsy stalker. Perhaps our wandering wavelengths intersected easily.

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