New Friends

It was my last night in Udaipur, and Nirmal and Pushkar wanted to take me out for a drink after dinner. I invited Prem to come with us, but he said he would stay at the hotel. He was concerned about me going out with these two guys that I barely knew, but I’d spent several hours chatting and laughing with them at Nirmal’s leather shop each day for the past few days and they seemed like nice guys.

Besides, Nirmal was a local shop owner and everyone knew who he was. Nirmal gave Prem his cell phone number and promised to have me back at the hotel by 9:30.

The guys took me to a very nice hotel bar where we had mai tais and laughed our heads off. Then Nirmal wanted to stop at a restaurant on the way back to say happy birthday to an acquaintance of his. Prem called while we were there because by now it was 11:00 p.m., and he was worried. We left shortly thereafter.

When our auto rickshaw pulled up to the Raj Palace Hotel, both Prem and the hotel manager were waiting out front.  I had no idea that the hotel manager locked the giant 15 foot metal front doors at night and was waiting for me to return. Prem was trying not to look worried, but I could tell that he was.

Prem told me later that a woman tourist had been murdered in her hotel room in Udaipur the previous year by some local men she had befriended. He said in a situation like that, the police arrest the driver first and ask questions later.  I apologized for being late and worrying him and promised I’d be on my best behavior for the rest of the trip.

Fortunately for me, Nirmal and Pushkar were as  nice as they seemed. The next morning, after I had breakfast at the hotel’s garden restaurant, they came by the hotel to say goodbye. Pushkar brought a little going away present for me, a small carving of Ganesh, the elephant headed god who was supposed to bring good luck.

Ganesh was Prem’s favorite god. He had a picture of Ganesh on the dashboard of our Tata Indica. I had a small carving on Ganesh on my desk at work and had picked up another small statuette at Jodhpur. Pushkar wore a small silver Ganesh charm around his neck, and Sri Ganesha Handicrafts was the name of Nirmal’s leather shop. Ganesh was certainly lucky for me.

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