I stand at the gate in my khaki uniform and I guard the bikes. The bearded stranger paid me 2 rupees to park his hired bike, and another 5 rupees to enter the gardens. These are the Mandore Gardens, near Jodhpur, from where crowds of people travel the 9 km to unwind and relax. That day there weren’t many visitors so I occasionally saw the stranger as he walked around the beautiful lawns and flowers. The Gardens also contain the ruins of the old capital of Marwar, the Rathore princely state – and after which our language here in this north-western corner of India is named. He climbed the ruins, he stared at the Hall of Heroes (16 garishly-coloured rock reliefs carved in the 16th century) and admired the flowers.
When he sat on a wall to write in his book I knew he would not be left alone. Sure enough, with the rest of the park mostly empty, a couple sat less than two metres away from him, forcing him to move a bit. A boy went up to him with his hand held out. I know this boy: he doesn’t ask for rupees, he says ‘your country coin or stamp’. He got a coin from the stranger - and he’ll probably start a forex business when he’s 21! The stranger’s next visitors were the langurs. These long-tailed monkeys own the ruins, they playfully pull each others’ tails, they hiss and bare their teeth – and they don’t ignore humans.
Eventually he put his book away and came back to his bike and me. Since he paid me 5 rupees perhaps he feels he can ask me a question? He asks about the Vikram Samvat calendar which he has seen on the cenotaphs of the old rulers in the fort. I know what year it is (2043), nothing more. Why should I know more: I am just a bike guard, nothing to do with the Gardens. The Gardens are free but I don’t stop foreigners giving me money if I say ‘Most beautiful Gardens. Five Rupees please’.