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At its core, this blog is intended to blend photography with prose in an attempt to convey what I see and feel during my trips to countries and communities in conflict.  However, I begin my journey through South Sudan deliberately without a photograph.  Too often, our perceptions of Africa are shaped by images of poverty-stricken villages, skin-and-bones children huddled in rags, women clamoring for food aid.  Undoubtedly, these images are part of the reality here, but they are not the whole picture.  Sometimes the whole picture is what lies beyond the frame.

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For my first trip into the field, in October 2013, we were headed straight for “the anus of the world,” Amokpiny.  Amokpiny seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, a small border town between Lakes and Unity states that was almost entirely depopulated during the second Sudanese Civil War from 1983-2005.  Allegedly, residents had started returning in the last several years, but still, I could make out only two permanent structures in the area.  “This is such an improvement from the last time I was here!” my colleague exclaimed.  “Improvement from what?” I thought.  In fact, the Dinka do not call this place Amokpiny because of its remoteness and lack of development, but rather because of its central, strategic location, just as the Dinka believe that the anus is in the center of the body.  Amokpiny lies at the intersection of the Dinka lands of Lakes State and the Nuer lands of southern Unity State.  It is on the route to rich pastures and plentiful water for grazing during the dry season and is host to a new road from Juba toward the border with Sudan that promises to bring trade to this tiny town.

Despite the benefits of this strategic location, Amokpiny also lies in the crossfire of some of the worst cattle raiding in South Sudan.  Historically, this area was plagued by brutal interethnic violence dating back to the 1991 split between Dinka and Nuer within in the SPLA guerrilla force that liberated South Sudan from the repressive Islamist government in Khartoum.  Fundamentally, the split was a power play by rebel leader Riek Machar against SPLA commander-in-chief John Garang, but ethnicity was used as the key to mobilizing rural youth and cattle keepers to fight as local militias in the broader national struggle – and to perpetrate heinous crimes against neighboring communities that had previously boasted positive relations.  The legacy of these atrocities continues to plague the region, and has become even more inflamed with the ongoing flood of weapons across the country and the incitement of interethnic hatred since the national crisis erupted in December 2013.

But in October 2013, our trip to Amokpiny was aimed at conducting consultations with local residents and an initial survey of the land to determine the potential of establishing a border market.  We had heard that relations between Dinka and Nuer had begun to improve, that several Nuer families had started building tukuls in the community, and that there were even a few cases of intermarriage.  We hoped that the proposed border market would help to bolster the goodwill by supporting opportunities for mutual gain through trade.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a group of a dozen energetic cattle camp youth emerging from the brush.  They were decorated with all of the bling of a rural South Sudanese gangster, displaying colorful tufts of hair, vibrant mismatched robes, and large ivory earrings.  One young man proudly presented an ivory bracelet around his wrist.  But more noticeable than his jewelry was his swollen, red, misshapen hand, a sign that his ornament was a recent acquisition, a gift from his father to award the young man’s prestige in cattle raiding.  The only way to put on such prized adornments and ensure that they are maintained as permanent signs of strength, honor, and family wealth is to break the hand of the youth and slip the bracelet over the mangled hand and onto his wrist.  The bracelet had cost nearly 2000 SSP, approximately $500.  The young man puffed up his chest and smiled through the pain.

Emboldened by their ornaments and youthful bravado, the young men began making offers for my hand in marriage.  “50 cows!”  “170 cows, plus 30 goats,” they pledged as dowry.  “Please, I’m worth more than that!” I retorted, playing into their game.  “200,000!” one boldly shouted over the rest.  The group laughed hysterically.  The record bride price was only 300 cows to date.  The youth pulled me into a photo, dancing around me as my colleague captured their performance.  They posed with arms crossed, tough lower lips, and penetrating stares that served to prove their toughness; or with arms outstretched, huge grins, and gleaming eyes that betrayed their sense of victory at wooing a young, white woman into their photo-op.  A few of the younger boys jumped in, mimicking their older brothers by brandishing their fists triumphantly.  Pleased with the photos, the youth bounded away back into the brush.

I wandered towards a group of women quietly washing clothes a few yards away.  They squatted on their heels, surrounded by soapy, muddy water.  While the clothes they were scrubbing matched the bright blues and greens worn by the cattle camp youth, their own dresses were little more than rags in faded shades of grey.  I was drawn to the simplicity of this quotidian activity in sharp contrast to the theatrics of the cattle camp youth.  I lifted my camera and gestured to the women, inquiring whether I could take their photograph. They coyly shook their heads to decline.  I thought perhaps they had misinterpreted my intentions, so I attempted to explain further and lifted my camera again.  But they smiled and continued to decline, this time pointing at their dresses and miming brushing their hair.  I understood completely.  These women had a strong self-conception that they wanted accurately portrayed in my photograph.  I had come unannounced into their community, and these women wanted to be depicted not in the midst of dirty water and daily chores, but modeling colorful clothes and proudly showing off their families and their homes.  The youth had had their moment in the spotlight, virile and gloating.  These women felt no need to put on a show for their moment, but only to express with a quiet grace their desire to be portrayed with due dignity.  The simplicity and honesty of their demand touched me deeply.  That day, in the anus of the world, I felt truly humbled.

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This blog is defined not by the assumptions I arrived with and by the images I anticipated capturing, but by the poignant and beautiful realities I am lucky enough to discover along the way.  A picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case, the absence of a picture where you would expect to find one is worth a thousand more.

I displayed all of the telltale signs of an outsider:  a big camera, an awkward headscarf, a pale complexion, a false confidence.  As I stood frozen in the middle of the bazaar, the Indians rushed in from all sides, piling into my frame and asking me my name, where I was from, and how I liked their country.  “Sundar,” I replied simply.  Beautiful.  That was my Abra Kadabra, my Alakazam, my secret password into the world of Ajmer.

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I had been in India for less than twenty-four hours when two friends and I boarded the AC II Tier compartment on the train from Delhi to Ajmer.  Ours was the most upscale section of the Bhuj Express.  Our cramped compartment consisted of two sets of bunk beds with ripped brown plastic-covered cushions and questionably clean sheets.  Little bed lights clung to the walls with rusted screws.  Only a thin curtain shielded us from the narrow path connecting ours with the other compartments.  We sat eating lunch on the hanging cots while the air conditioning battled the immense heat that had consumed the world outside.  As hour five of our journey rapidly approached, we drifted off to sleep.

A monotonous chant woke me from my nap.  I peered out through the curtain and saw a tiny, bronzed man carrying a heavy, silver caldron filled to the brim with boiling liquid.  The chaiwalla was distributing steaming, spiced tea to his patrons, seemingly unaware that the temperature threatened 100 degrees outside.  The thin plastic cups looked as if they might melt from the heat of the milky beverage. The chaiwalla persisted in his chant, as if beckoning me to follow.

As I trailed the little man along the compartments toward the end of the AC II Tier car, I expected a fresh breeze to dance through my hair and the clatter of the rail to fill my ears.  Instead, when I opened the door to the platform adjoining the two cars, I was bombarded by the sour stench of boiling urine, the shrill cry of babies, and the jolting image of two young boys hanging from the side of the speeding train.  Despite the sudden and complete assault on my senses, my attention quickly shifted.  I was mesmerized by the backdrop of green fields bejeweled with vibrant saris, a bare-chested old man with ornate facial hair, a gaggle of children playing among the sacred cows.  I wanted to become part of this scene, to explore and to understand.  I inhaled the pungent air and moved toward the edge of the platform to join the pair of wily little boys.  They did not budge.  I pushed my body out into the rushing air and looked back at the others for validation.  They seemed unmoved at my display of adventure. I pursued the chaiwalla as he moved gracefully into the next car.

If the platform awakened my senses, this place oppressed them.  I stood paralyzed while my body adjusted to the darkness and the din.  I squinted into the dim, sweaty atmosphere.  In each little compartment, no less than eight or ten people crowded together, while ours housed only three.  Families huddled close trying to entertain their restless children; mothers napped with babies on their chests; men sat joking with cups of chai in hand.  The people overflowed into the aisle, eluding the bit of privacy that the curtains were begging to provide as suspicious stares descended upon me.  My sense of adventure was exhausted.  I feigned a smile and rushed back towards the AC II Tier car.

My friends were waking up just as I arrived back to our compartment.  The train halted at an anonymous station and people began to rush to and from the train.  A middle-aged man walked up to the window and peered down at the tracks.  We were prepared to greet him, excited to make an exchange through the comfortable distance provided by the glass barrier.  He began to pee.  We released a latent sigh as the train jolted to a start and crept toward Ajmer.

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I walked into the bustling bazaar amid an explosion of paradoxes.  Colorful wares, rich culture, and profound spirituality intermingled with grime, abject poverty, and human decay.  A row of ancient, gnarled men rolled on the ground, groaning and extending deformed torsos and misshapen faces in the direction of passersby.  These beggars looked as if they had been born from the filth of the road, nurtured only by the elements and the occasional rupee placed near the stumps of their limbs.  I sidestepped their mangled bodies.  I was but one of thousands who had neglected them that day.  I stopped.  I turned and looked into their eyes.  An innate sense of humanity gurgled within the pit of my stomach, up my esophagus, and into the corners of my lips.  They nodded in response to my smile.

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If “sundar” was my password into the world behind the Ajmer bazaar, chai was my ticket to sharing that space. Despite the early morning hour, my friends and I walked down the dirt road with eyes wide and cameras perched.  A beautiful woman leaned lithely against an iron gate.  We began to snap photographs of her.  She laughed shyly and pulled the material of her rainbow sari across her face in defense.  Nonetheless, she gestured for us to follow her into her home.

She led us to a worn and unadorned bed frame behind her small concrete abode and offered us chai.  Her eyes beamed when we accepted, and she disappeared to boil the water. Suddenly, a little group of young girls and their mothers filed into the backyard, breaking from their school preparations and morning routines to peer at us three Americans.  The woman handed us cups of thick, creamy chai.  She paused, smiled, and murmured something to the girls.  Almost instantaneously, they ambushed our arms with tubes of henna, drawing whimsical designs between our fingers and around our wrists.  We draped our cameras around their necks and pressed their thumbs onto the shutter button.  The women giggled and gazed at us with utter pleasure.  As we sipped the last drops of chai, the delight reflected across our faces and theirs.

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From the vivid chaos of the main avenue, I stepped into a shadowy alleyway.  I thought to turn back, to stay among the crowds, but some instinct pushed me to explore deeper into the bazaar of Ajmer.

Out of the darkness emerged a room filled with bright fuchsia flower petals.  Three suntanned men in tank tops sat surrounded by roses on the wet floor.  I stepped over the threshold and greeted them.  The quiet warmth of their smiles conveyed an invitation to stay. They offered me a wooden box to sit on, but with deliberate steps, I walked to the center of the room and crouched with them on the damp concrete.  The three flower men regarded me with a curious glance every few minutes, but said not a word.  A chaiwalla tread down the alley advertising his sweet drink.  One of the flower men quickly intercepted him and passed me a glass, his eyes imploring me to accept.

I spent time with the flower men nearly every day that week.  They welcomed me as I entered the room to assume my position with them on the floor.  Together, we shared the space and shared the blissful silence.  We sat in peaceful immobility until a customer appeared, setting us bolting into action.  The men rushed about to fill the customer’s order, and I squeezed in behind them to capture a photograph.  The customer left satisfied, and we restored ourselves to our posts once more, our eyes smiling over the rims of the chai cups.  As the sun began to set, I departed with my headscarf still damp from the dew of that morning’s flowers.

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The sky turned bright pink and cobalt blue, heralding the arrival of night.  Days earlier, I had envisioned my photograph, and this was the moment of perfect evening light that I had been waiting for.  Suddenly, a deep, booming voice beckoned me from behind my shoulder.  I turned to find a khadim, one of the many Sufi Muslim spiritual leaders of the Ajmer shrine, sitting on a rug with his devotees.  He gestured for me to join him for a cup of chai.  I tried to stall my response and capture my intended image, but the khadim called to me in a commanding tone.  I pondered my options, but knew I could not refuse the chai. I resigned myself to join the khadim, and he showered me with inquiries into my work and with endless offerings of chai.  I had barely reached the bottom of my second cup when he made a phone call and insisted that I accompany him to dinner.  The khadim told me that his wife wanted to meet me.  Night had fallen, and I was wary of his intentions and unassailable persistence.  But something told me to follow him to his guesthouse for dinner.

Smells wafted down the street several hundred yards before we reached his door.  As we approached the building, enormous cauldrons sat in the street, bubbling with hunks of lamb and with sweet kheer.  The khadim led me through the house, explaining that tonight he was the host of the weekly dinner that circulated among the guesthouses of the hundreds of khadim.  Upstairs, he pointed out the room where women and children quietly dined.  I started toward the room, but he stopped me and showed me out to the balcony where dozens of boisterous khadim sat on the floor eating along a red carpet that spanned the length of building.  He signaled for me to sit, a young American woman among throngs of khadim men.  In front of me, he placed a cup of chai.

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After two weeks, I had become part of the variegated landscape of Ajmer.  I had dined with khadim, sold flowers with shopkeepers, and shared traditional customs with mothers and their daughters.  Even the beggars became accustomed to my presence, no longer pleading for money, but greeting me merely as another inhabitant of the bazaar.  The chaiwalla of the Bhuj Express had inspired my exploration, and his chai had found me a home.

Keeping the Faith

The Dargah Sharif and its surrounding bazaar bustle with thousands of pilgrims every day.  While mostly Hindus and Muslims occupy the city of Ajmer, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis, and Sikhs flock from around the globe to descend upon this sacred site, the holiest Sufi shrine in India.

As my van made an abrupt stop at the gateway to the bazaar, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and peered through the dusty window.  The pilgrims to the Dargah Sharif were already beginning to crawl toward the shrine, outpacing the approaching leap of the sun over the horizon.  By seven o’clock, the place heaved with sweaty customers and with rival vendors trying to sell their sun-kissed goods.  By noon, religious offerings, travel-worn luggage, the young, the old, and the weary were all surging forth with the tide of the tanned crowd, seeping relentlessly into all unclaimed spaces in the bazaar.

I had persuaded Sara and Asim, our two photographic mentors, to let me brave this electrified landscape alone.  They had given me one caveat:  do not tell anyone that I was Jewish.  If an alternate identity was my ticket to a new adventure, I was willing to pay the price.

I believed that price would be a small one to endure.  Despite the obvious dominance of religion as a matter in and around the shrine, I did not expect that my faith would be called out of the shadows or into judgment.  So I donned my headscarf, practiced my Hindi, and unabashedly marched into the shrine with my camera and notepad.

I had arranged to meet with Anas Kaptan, a young, liberal khadim who presided over the spiritual well being of a number of pilgrims to the shrine.  We stood on the balcony of his guesthouse in the steaming mid-morning air discussing Sufism and his deep commitment to the faith.  The conversation paused for a moment while I made a photograph of the slick white marble of the shrine below.  “Why have you come to Ajmer?  Are you seeking prayer at the shrine?” he asked suddenly.  His tone was in no way interrogating or incriminating, but I felt unprepared and apprehensive as I fumbled for the appropriate answer.  I explained that I was merely a student and a photojournalist.  And a Christian.  Anas had not inquired about my religious identity and had in fact emphasized the Sufi value of tolerance, but somehow the words felt tugged from my throat.  That was the first time I had ever lied about my Judaism.

Unaware of my lie, Anas invited me to join him and his mother for lunch.  He ran ahead to prepare for the meal, while I navigated the meandering alleyways of the Dargah bazaar. Inquisitive eyes peered at me from every angle, pursuing me, and seeming to judge me until I arrived at Anas’ doorstep.

A servant showed me upstairs to a carpeted room with austere pink walls and a small square window.  The room was empty save for a middle-aged woman kneeling on the ground, her forehead nearly touching the ground.  Tears streamed down her face as her lips moved in silent meditation.  She stood up with her eyes pressed closed and bowed toward the wall.  Her knees bent resolutely as she lowered herself to the ground once more.  Her fingers ticked like a metronome keeping her prayer in rhythm with her rosary.  I stared at her hands, desperately trying to keep pace with the beads shifting rapidly from right to left, three at a time.  She smiled for a moment as she recognized my presence, but was otherwise completely unaltered in her state of tranquility.  I was a witness to an intimate and powerful prayer.  I wanted desperately to share with her a glimpse into my prayer, but I had promised to conceal my faith.

Suddenly, the clicking of the rosary stopped, and the woman looked up at me.  She spoke a few words of Urdu before realizing my that I did not understand.  “Mother,” she said, pointing at her chest.  Despite our limited mutual vocabulary, the ensuing conversation transcended our clumsy attempts at verbal communication.  She described her long-distance relationship with her eldest children who resided in the States.  Anas was her youngest and only child left at home in Ajmer.  He was the chosen one, tasked with the responsibility of sustaining the patriarchal lineage of the khadim.  But Anas was also her only child without legal access to the United States by means of a green card or visa.  The conversation intensified as she begged me for help.  I insisted that there was little I could do, but she persisted, picking up two statuettes of a bride and a groom, and holding them together in a little dance. She peered at me mischievously as she made the little figurines embrace. Anas burst into the room with lunch and his mother dropped the statuettes. She continued to wink at me as we ate our meal.

In the next week, Anas and I spent an afternoon viewing photos from his cousin’s wedding and another discussing our first crushes.  He promised me a ride on his new cobalt blue motorcycle before I departed.  We swapped numbers, and he gave me a box of chocolates the night before I left.  For me, the relationship was by no means a romantic interest, but more of an intense curiosity.  I began to wonder genuinely if in some alternate universe a devout Sufi khadim could ever end up with a liberal American Jew.  What would happen if I exposed my identity?  Would Anas be horrified by my Jewish heritage?  Would he condemn me for my lie?  Would our shared beliefs in pluralism and faith bridge the stigmas, stereotypes, and cultural divides?  My questions were merely rhetorical, but they transformed the relationship into a profound exploration of the limits of tolerance and exchange.

After countless hours of immersing myself in the world of the Dargah Sharif, I returned for my last day of work, filled with confidence.  I plunged myself into the crowds at the bazaar, standing my ground as the rushing throngs froze for one instant, and then another, as my camera clicked. Hours later, I emerged into what appeared to be the sole refuge from the bustling cacophony of the shrine – a little cemetery where a elderly pilgrim was placing flower petals on tiny tombs.  I trailed the old man in his quiet act of devotion, compelling myself to trace his exact steps, adopt his state of focused piety, and observe every delicate motion of his wrinkled, fragile hands.  A khadim sat cross-legged on a carpeted perch at the edge of the graves.  “What is your religion sister?” he called to me.  The voice seemed to me an echo, jolting me out of my shared moment with the old pilgrim.  The question registered, and I responded hastily, “I am Christian.”  “Very good,” he replied.  “It does not matter your religion.  We have here Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsis, Yehudis.”

Yehudis.  Jews.

I’ll never know:  Was this espousal of tolerance a platitude recited for outsiders?  Was it an honest practice tried and true by the constant flood of diverse pilgrims?  Was it a test of my own identity and personal integrity?  I write this now without denial, keenly aware that Anas will read about my lie and my struggle to conceal my identity in a place where I felt so connected to the spiritual life at the Dargah.  I don’t regret my decision.  I am comfortable with my choice.  But now I must pay the debt to my identity and embrace it  without apology.

Lal Gulab

The gulab—a symbol of devotion, commerce, prayer, and peace laces a delicate thread through the heterogeneous topography that surrounds the Dargah Sharif, the impressive shrine to the Sufi Muslim saint Mu’in al-Din Chishti of Ajmer.  More than a flower, the gulab is the bearer of blessings for devotees and a declaration of love for pilgrims; it is a mechanism of mutual exchange for shopkeepers and a promise of wealth for residents.  The Ajmer rose builds a humanity that transcends secular life and religious boundaries and constructs a community that shares in both commercial gains and spiritual pursuits.  I set out across this rich landscape on a journey to discover the intricate web of diverse relationships and luminous metaphors.

As the concrete and metal landscape melted into a sprawling ocean of magenta roses, my anxieties about capturing the right light, the perfect subject, the proper composition all dissolved.  The morning sun cut shining crescents across the faces of three beaming girls—Tara, Puja, and Suntos.  They beckon me to follow them into the fields.

To the girls, I was merely observing their daily chore of picking flowers for sale at the bazaar around the Dargah Sharif.  They giggled as I clicked my camera in their direction.  These girls were from a family of mali, the traditional gardeners of India, whose flower farm is part of a mundane lifestyle that grandfather has passed to grandson, and mother has passed to daughter.  What the girls did not realize is that their simple history was an essential thread woven into the legacy of the gulab, a vibrant story of faith, commerce, and coexistence.

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The story of the Ajmer rose has no beginning and no end.  Instead, the native flower has a ubiquitous presence that meanders from the flower farms of the countryside, to the dim stalls of the Dargah bazaar, and into the tomb of the saint, lovingly known as Khwaja Gharib Nawaz.  To each person who encounters these flowers, the rose has a different meaning.

Narayan Saini oversees the administrative side of the flower farm where Tara, Puja, and Suntos pick the Ajmer roses.  Narayan’s life is a series of measurements and notations.  Every day at six in the morning, Narayan arranges along the edges of the fields large canvas bags, which the girls fill with over a hundred kilos of flowers.  At precisely ten o’clock, Narayan arrives at his storeroom in the Dargah bazaar, where his scale seesaws under the weight of the flowers.  He peers at the scale as if contemplating the worth of his life.

I follow Narayan out of the storeroom.  He stops by the stalls of Hindu shopkeepers in the bazaar and those of Sufi vendors inside the Dargah.  He chats with buyers and occasionally accepts chai.  Although a sharp mark in his ledger book punctuates the end of his visits, the intermingled voices of Narayan and his customers linger in the space.

As I begin to explore the shrine, other voices express similar ideas.  “We are materialistic.  I am not shy about that,” Anas admits, caressing a rose.  Anas Kaptan is a thoughtful and progressive khadim of twenty-three.  Although the life of a khadim revolves around the spiritual maintenance of the Dargah Sharif and the guidance of its pilgrims, Anas explains the khadim have become very wealthy from nazrana, monetary gifts from their followers.

Many khadim have invested their assets in restaurants and guesthouses above the Dargah bazaar and rent the ground shops to largely Hindu shopkeepers.  The close proximity of Sufi and Hindu has the potential to fuel sectarian tensions, and the opportunism of Hindu shopkeepers so close to the spiritual site could breed resentment.  Nonetheless, Anas insists that any jealousies that may exist remain unspoken.  Instead, Anas emphasizes the value of tolerance.  “We respect each and everything that belongs to the shrine space,” he says referring not only to the pilgrims, but also to the flowers.  “The moment they touch the shrine, they become sacred.”

To many pilgrims, the unique spirit of Ajmer grows out of the doctrine of love and acceptance espoused by Khwaja Gharib Nawaz.  Today, people of all religions coalesce at the Dargah Sharif.  Ishrat Khatri, a Sufi devotee from Mumbai believes that whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, or Parsi, the rose is a gift of peace and purity from God that is available to all.  “The faith is in the flower,” Ishrat proclaims.

The young woman’s soft cheeks glisten as the evening namaz ends.  Ishrat has come to Ajmer with her new husband to offer her thanks directly to the saint, but she maintains that wherever she goes Khwaja Gharib Nawaz is with her.  She digs into her purse, searching for a tissue to dry her eyes.  A bag of rose petals sits prominently among her possessions.  This flower is the “blessing of Baba,” as she calls it, a constant reminder of the gracefully intertwining lives of Ajmer.

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I write now, staring down from time to time at the Hindu henna that Puja drew on my hand.  I have pinned in my hair a rose that I took from the flower shop, but few can see it beneath my headscarf.  I can feel my eyes all lit up as I reflect on the gift given to me by the three mali girls.

I had been at the farm for over an hour when Suntos looked at me with a devious smile, appreciably aware of my camera.  “Lal gulab,” she says pointing at the rose that I had been photographing.  I set down my camera and tried to mimic her words.  The girls giggled at my pronunciation.  I repeated the words aloud.  “Lal gulab,” the girls recited encouragingly.  Laxmi called the girls in for chai.  We sat sipping the milky drink and sharing the space.  The sun was high now, and Tara, Puja, and Suntos stood to return to the fields.  Suntos looked back at me.  “Lal gulab,” I chanted.  Red rose.  The girls echoed “lal gulab.”

The lifecycle of the rose embodies the syncretism of the place, the parallel reality of faith and commerce and the symbiosis of Hindu and Muslim.  Few know of the legendary existence of the Ajmer rose and even fewer seem to imbue the rose with a conscious meaning.  The rose is a means of income and it is an offering of beauty, but at its core, the rose of Ajmer is a symbol of coexistence and beacon of hope.

See the photo essay.

See “Spirits of the Shrine.”