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Posted by Tim on Apr 17, 2010
Do You Know About Love?

On the twelfth day of our honeymoon, we found ourselves in the magical lakeside gem known as Udaipur – known widely as "the most romantic city in India." It was from there that we visited the massive ruins of Kumbhalgarh Fort and the gleaming Jain temple of Ranakpur. We knew that if we hired a car and driver, we could see them both in one long daytrip, and we arranged through our hotel to do just that.

The next day, our car arrived to take us to Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur. It was driven by a man named Lokesh.

This is his story.


Castes, Cows, and Custard Apples

We all hit it off instantly. Lokesh had kind face and a gentle demeanor, and a smile that lit up his eyes.

'Our friend Lokesh, who truly knows about loveIt was the first time we'd hired a private car since our accident in Cambodia, and echoes of that fateful drive loomed large in our minds, but Lokesh turned out to be an incredibly safe driver. And when at one point the gravel under our tires started reminding Jessica a little too much of that road in the Cardamom Mountains, he was only too happy to slow down a bit more, so that she wouldn't be scared.

The distance between our hotel and our two destinations entailed numerous hours of car travel, and in that time we got to know Lokesh pretty well. He was delighted to learn that we were ravenously learning all the Hindi and Urdu we could, and spent much of the drive pointing at every animal we passed, and teaching us to pronounce its name in Hindi. ("No, no, this is a kutta, a dog. Gadha was name for donkey.") He also built on our burgeoning knowledge of animal names by teaching us that in India a mother scolds her sloppy or disobedient son by calling him "monkey-son" or "dog-son."

(He also taught us to say "pig-son" in Hindi, but warned us never to let any Indian person hear us saying that.)

'On our drive together, Lokesh taught us about custard-apples and castes.At one point, we were driving along a long, empty, rural road snaking between two fields when Lokesh spotted a young boy walking along the roadside carrying an armful of small odd-looking fruits.

He pulled over and chatted with the boy for a minute or two, and then handed him a few rupees in exchange for some of the fruit. He handed two of them back to us, and tore into a third as he started driving again.

"They are called sitafel," he told us. "Custard-apples."

As we tucked in to our custard-apples together, we started talking about food. Lokesh talked to us about how in India, "the Hindus eat the pig but think that to eat the cow is very bad. But for the Muslims, is just the opposite."

He paused to take another bite of his custard-apple. "I am Hindu," he added, "but of Brahmin caste, so no eat the pig. Only pure veg."

It was the first time anyone in India had mentioned castes to us, and soon we found ourselves in a long conversation on the subject, with Lokesh as our teacher.

"When you look at shoeshop or barbershop, you see the name always the same everywhere," he said. "Shoemaker always named this, and barbers always named that. Is because all shoemaker are Mochi caste, and many Mochi have this name, and barbers are all Mangali caste, and many Mangali have that name."

He shook his head ruefully. "Like me," he said, "I am Brahmin caste. Brahmin should work in the temple. My father thinks that for me to drive a car is not good. But it is my job."

He shrugged.


A Love-Marriage

At one point, he said suddenly, "You both look like the very happy. Are you married?"

We smiled, and said that we were, and in fact had only just gotten married less than two weeks earlier. He clapped his hands in joy at the news and asked, "Are you love-married?"

It was a question we'd received before. In India a "love-marriage" is an aberration: more than 99% of Indian marriages are arranged marriages. All of the romantic Bollywood films we'd become so enamored of weren't about meeting your true love – they were almost without exception about discovering you were in love with your arranged spouse.

We told Lokesh that we were indeed love-married. He patted his chest and proudly proclaimed, "I am love-married too."

We were very surprised, and eagerly pressed him for more. What was his wife's name? How did they meet? Was it difficult to be love-married in India?

And then he told us his story.


A Forbidden Love

"When I am a young man," he began, "I drive the car for a very powerful Rajput family. Every day, I drive their daughter Sona to school. She is only three years younger than I, and very beautiful. Every day, I drive Sona to her school, and we do not speak. Only look in the mirror of the car. Sometimes I see her look back to me. We start to talking talking, every day when we drive. I begin to think I love this girl, and wonder if maybe she love me too.

"One day, I take the chance. I ask to her a question. 'Sona,' I say, 'what do you think about maybe today I not drive you to school. What do you think that today I drive you to a park instead?' She say yes."

They spent the day sitting by the side of a lake, talking. Lokesh found he couldn't contain himself any longer. "Sona," he blurted, "I love you."

She smiled with joy, but then he saw fear in her eyes. She began playfully swatting his arm, giggling, and said "Lokesh, you bad man. Very bad man."

For another year, he drove her to school every day. Sometimes they'd sneak off to the park instead, but for the most part their young love affair was confined to longing looks and animated conversations in the car.

"I loved her, and she loved me," Lokesh told us, "but it was forbidden. She is kshatriya caste, she is rajput clan. Very powerful, very important. I am brahmin caste, very poor.

"We were afraid," he said, but then a fierce pride burned in his eyes, and he added, "but we had strong hearts."

They married in secret. To the rest of the world, he continued to be no more than her driver.


Flight

One day, a friend found Lokesh at the market and issued him a breathless warning: he had to flee.

"Sona's father looking for me," he told us. "My friend see him asking for me. See him carrying the gun. Say that he think Sona's father wish to kill me."

Lokesh managed to avoid his father-in-law long enough to find Sona. They decided to flee to Udaipur. Lokesh could certainly find work in a big city like that. They could build a new life together.

And they did.


Reconciliation

One day, Sona called her mother from a public phone. They'd been laying low for months, and she was anxious for news from home. She was desperate to know how her parents were doing, and whether they had forgiven her yet.

Her mother was hysterical at hearing from her again. She begged Sona to come back home. "You father is so sorry," she said. "He misses you so much."

Sona's father got on the phone next, and said the same. "Please come back," he begged her. "We will welcome Lokesh as our son."

When Sona told Lokesh the news that evening he was nervous but elated. Had they really forgiven him for taking their daughter away from him? Would they really accept him into the family? It all seemed too good to be true.

They packed up their things and returned from Udaipur. And when they got home, they discovered that it was indeed too good to be true.

It was a trap. Sona's father had Lokesh arrested.


The Cauldron

"The police take me away from my Sona," Lokesh said. "They take me to... to tunnel. No, not tunnel. Dungeon?"

"Prison?" I asked helpfully. Lokesh shook his head, his brow furrowed, searching for the word.

"Not prison. Like... like room for torture."

Jessica and I stared at him in horror.

"The police beat me every day. They punch me and kick me, step on my hand and my head. All the time they tell me, 'Lokesh, you bad man, you very bad man.' I am not proud – I will tell you I cry every day in that room.

"'Where is my Sona?' I ask them. I say, 'I am not bad man. We are married. She is my wife.' They tell me every day that we are not married. They tell me I must never see her again. They say if I agree, then I can go."

His eyes were on the road now. He didn't look back as he told this part of the tale. His voice had gotten quiet.

"But I have strong heart. I will never say this. They begin to beg to me, say 'Why do you do this?' They do not like to hurt me every day. They ask me please to say that I will never see Sona again.

"But they do not know about love."


Judgement

During this part of the tale, Lokesh used the words "judge" and "mayor" interchangeably. I'm using the former in this telling, with the caveat that it may not be exactly what he meant.

"One day, they take me to the judge. Sona's father is there. The judge tells me I must never see her again.

"I fall on my knees and I begin to cry. I beg to the judge. I tell him that she is my wife, that we are married. I tell him that I cannot live without her.

"I think that maybe I see something in his eyes. I wonder to myself, maybe this man knows about love?

"And then the judge says to Sona's father, 'You cannot do this. They are married.'" His eyes lit up with the memory. "And he tells me that I am free."


Strong Hearts

"Sona's father was so angry. He cut her from the family, and this makes her very sad. It is not the money – we are very poor, but she does not need the money because we have the love. She miss her family though, and she wish that they could understand about love. But they do not.

"We are love marriage – very bad. We are inter-caste marriage – very bad. My family does not like her because she is rajput, because she eat the meat.

"But we have strong hearts."

Lokesh talked about his Sona for much of the rest of the drive, and whenever he did his face would light up. He was always sad to leave for work in the morning, because he wished he could spend every minute with her. He had to head out in the wee hours of the morning every day, and every day he tried to slip out without waking her, so that she could sleep in. She always woke up anyway, though, and would chastise him for trying to let her sleep. She didn't want to miss their time together in the mornings.


Children

They had been married for 12 years now. But they hadn't been able to have any children.

"We try and try," he sighed, "but we cannot have. Sona is very upset sometimes. she worry that this is a punishment. She worry that if I married within my clan, then I would have a wife who could give me babies."

He shook his head.

"My friends tell me I must get a new wife, one who will give me babies. They are not bad people, you understand. They just do not know about love. My wife is my life, and my life is my wife. How can I live without my wife?"

He told us that they were looking into adoption instead.


Farewell

The next morning, Lokesh was our driver once more. (I'm not sure who was more excited at that – him or us.) This time, though, he was driving us to the airport. We were flying from Udaipur to Delhi, and then from there back to the US.

"Last night, I tell my Sona all about you," he said. "I tell her about how you are love-marriage too. I tell her about how you know about love."

We blushed and beamed at him. He smiled at us through the rear-view mirror, much as he'd once smiled at a young girl whom he'd one day marry.

"I wonder," he asked, "if you ever come back to Udaipur?"

We immediately assured him that we would. The most romantic city in India had completely captured our hearts. We knew that we would be back.

He smiled again. "When you come back, then, I think you come and stay with me and my Sona."

"No money," he added. "Just friends."

We told him that we would be honored.

When he dropped us off at the airport we shook his hand goodbye and thanked him for everything. We told him to tell Sona that we would come back, and that we couldn't wait to meet her.

Impulsively, I clasped his hand one last time.

"You're a good man, Lokesh," I said. "A very good man. And you have a very strong heart."

He blushed. "I am love-marriage, and you are love-marriage," he said, shaking my hand vigorously. "People who are love-marriage should be friends."

If you enjoyed this story, you might also like these ones:

Twelve Favorite Photos from India

Twelve Favorite Photos from India

All Dogs Are Beloved

All Dogs Are Beloved

An Unabashed Fan of India

An Unabashed Fan of India

Meliza
April 19, 2010 at 10:57am
I'm first!
This was your sweetest story so far. thank you for sharing.
April 19, 2010 at 11:01am
Awww, thanks! It was a pretty special story to get to hear, and it was really important to me to try and do it justice. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! :)
Greg
April 19, 2010 at 11:18am
Damn you, I'm a grown man at work trying not to cry! That's so sweet and sad and special and other s words I can't think of!
April 19, 2010 at 11:35am
Thanks, Greg! I'm glad you liked it, even if it did threaten you the verboten office-tears. :)
Philsie
April 19, 2010 at 11:42am
Um…
April 19, 2010 at 12:19pm

*eyes you*
Janet
April 19, 2010 at 7:42pm
Aw, how cute.
April 20, 2010 at 10:32am
Thanks, Janet! :)
Maggie (Tim's sister)
April 22, 2010 at 5:37am
This is a wonderful story! I'm sorry that Sona and Lokesh had such a hard time with society telling them what is right and what is wrong, but I'm very happy that their strong hearts prevailed.

The more I read your stories on here the more I realize how lucky we are. Sometimes we need to see the world though a different lens in order to realize just how much we take certain things for granted.

If you should go back to India and stay with Lokesh be sure to take some pics. I want to see what those who understand love really look like. 8 o )

April 22, 2010 at 5:15pm
Thanks, Maggie! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. :)

Lokesh and Sona have definitely not had an easy time of it, but I bet if you asked him he's say he thought of himself as lucky – lucky to have found his soulmate. :)

If we're lucky enough ourselves to cross paths with him again, and if we do indeed get to meet "his Sona", I promise you we'll get some pics for you. :D

July 2, 2010 at 2:38am
I just happened across your site today from looking at Lek's elephant park in Chiang Mai's website.

Firstly I was super impressed by the layout, the design and the originality of Hedgehogs Without Borders (And I'm not easily impressed). Then I read about your dog (sad story, but he did bring you much joy) and flicked through the rest of your tales of travelling and notes on what to take, what jabs to get and other tips for the exotic traveller.

You two are a match made in heaven and your adventures are quite the thing! You write beautifully and invoke the spirit of travelling so well.

This story of Lokesh and Sona was so moving that I finally broke my stern netiquette and have to praise you for all your good deeds and far flung fancies in this comment.

So Tim and Jessica, I hope you never have to stay off the road for too long and get to scratching those itchy feet.

My wife is a teacher at an international school and so that sets us up for a base from which to venture further (currently Thailand) so perhaps we'll meet you in some remote section of the world, be it the Green Tortoise in Seattle or Cafe Sakura in Ping Yao.

Failing that have a great time and keep updating this site with your stories – it should be mandatory reading (along with Wikitravel) to anyone with a backpack.

Take care you guys!

September 15, 2010 at 3:55pm
Holy cow, Scott, I'm so sorry to not have responded to this sooner – somehow I missed this when you posted it and only just came across it today. :(

That said, thank you so much for your incredibly lovely comment. Your kind words have absolutely made my day, and I'm looking forward to sharing them with Jessica when she gets home.

I look forward to the day when our paths cross out there on the road somewhere. Happy travels! :)


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