Sunday, 9 April 2017

An inspirational afternoon in Delhi

This is Komal (and her mum, Babita):

Komal has a brother too, but he's a teenager - and like most teenagers, when guests come he hides in his room!
Komal works for Urban Adventures, a part of Intrepid (the company we’re booked with) and she ran our afternoon activity while we were in Delhi - the ‘home cooked Delhi tour’. In essence, we drove to her house, and she showed us how to cook some traditional Indian foods. And it was incredible.

The food Komal (Komi to her friends) prepared was delicious. We had Pakora (vegetables, or indeed anything, fried in batter made with chickpea flower), Masala Chai (did you know ‘Masala’ just means ‘mix of spices?’), Roti, lentils and various other delightful things we've unfortunately forgotten the names of. She cooked, we watched – but she’s also promised to send us the recipes for everything she cooked – so parents and siblings, brace yourself for that when we get home! Komi also showed us her Uncle’s wedding album, which gave us a great insight into what an Indian wedding ceremony looks like. The girls even got to try on Saris as part of the experience – and the boys got to take a few photos.

Everyone also got a bindi, the red dot on the forehead, as we were welcomed into Komi's home. Unfortunately, Jon's sweated out pretty quickly!
The unexpected delight of the tour was Komi herself. On the hour long minibus trip to her house through the chaotic Delhi traffic, she told us about herself and how she came to be a tour leader for Urban Adventures.

Komi’s motivation for becoming a tour guide was in large part down to her parents – and her grandmother., who is often also present for the tour but was sadly absent for ours due to illness. Her mum had worked right up until the birth of Komi’s younger brother, with Komi being looked after by her grandmother. But by the time Komi’s brother came along, grandma wasn’t able to look after him the same way she had Komi, so Babita had to stop working and become a full-time mum. She supported Komi’s aspirations to make a career for herself, in part, because she wanted her daughter to live the life she hadn’t been able to.

Komi’s motivation also stemmed from the desire to achieve financial independence and support her family. When she was a teenager, an unscrupulous tenant in her parents’ house brought a lawsuit against them and forced them to move out of their house for three years. During that time, her father struggled to support the entire family – and Komi decided that she wanted to help him out.

So she resolved to work as a tour guide. It was a risk – as a teenager, she’d been pretty shy. And her mother was dubious about her choice of career. Thankfully, her grandmother was supportive (and in India, the approval of the elders of the family carries an enormous amount of weight). So she went for an interview, Intrepid saw her potential, and she was hired.

But there was still opposition from various people, including neighbours and family friends. Tour guiding is a respectable job, but to many people, it's not a job for a woman. Young women can do things like have jobs and study, but if they don’t have a plan for themselves – or if they aren’t successful – then marriage looms over them, almost as a consequence. Komi's certainly not opposed to the idea of marriage, but she wants it to be on her own terms, rather than anyone else's idea.

A year into the job, a lot has changed. Komi has changed – thanks to the support and mentoring she got from Intrepid, the bubbly young woman who is totally at ease inviting strangers into her home emerged from behind the shy teenager. The attitudes of her friends and neighbours changed. When they saw her success she was having – and the fun – the criticisms dried up and were even replaced by enquiries as to whether Intrepid was hiring. Babita often helps does the cooking on these tours (Komi admits that she once confused fennel and cumin when making bread and it didn't go down well), and Komi is glad that she can help her mother start to make a role for herself in the world other than that of a wife and mother. And now, after Komi was made tour leader of the year twice, Intrepid is exclusively hiring women as tour guides to redress the balance in their workforce (and, we suspect, to find more talent like Komi’s).

It’s an inspiring story, and one that has been covered in much loftier publications than ours, including the Guardian. But it is a story of Delhi, not yet a story of the whole of India, according to Komi.

Her family were attracted to Delhi in the first place because of its progressive and multicultural makeup – a far cry from the more rigidly traditional attitudes found in the smaller towns and villages. Komi’s parents married for love in a country where 60% of the marriages are arranged. The prevailing attitude is that everything women do should contribute to their value as a wife.

When Komi returns to Jaipur to visit her grandmother, other women come up to her and start offering their sons as prospective husbands, hoping to reel her in by listing his career and his salary. They can’t believe that her hair has been dyed, and ask her mother what she ate during her pregnancy to colour Komi’s hair. There’s a mixture of fascination and disdain for her looks, her un-ladylike manner, and her independence. Even her mother wasn’t sure when Komi got tattoos (“Who will marry you now?” she asked. “A boy with tattoos”, came the reply). And it’s for this reason that Komi would rather stay in Delhi, with all its poverty, noise and chaos, than move back out to where her lifestyle would be frowned upon, or even impossible.

The afternoon with Komi was just what we wanted out of this trip. It's been a glance into one person's experience living in their country - and its given us a whole lot to think about and watch for as we see more of this part of the world. We hope that more young women feel able to follow Komi's example in future, and that they in turn support their children the way Komi's parents supported her - and as she'll no doubt inspire her children should the time come.



  1. Thank you J and G for your appreciation!!
    It means a lot..

  2. I've been waiting for this moment......

    What's "chickpea flower"?!

  3. Amazing write up guys, thanks for sharing.

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