Her name was Premlata, a lady tourist guide. We met her at Orchha when we reached the gates of the palace there. Many guides came to us offering their services. She was also one of them. A frail woman wearing a wine-colored Sari properly pinned on her tiny shoulders. And a mangal sutra hanging around her neck pronouncing her marital status. She stood apart, as she could not get through the virtual maze other tour guides had created around the tourists. Her eyes had hope and pessimism in equal measures. Hope that made her stand there and make eye contact with the tourist. And pessimism because not many took her seriously, for when did you see a young woman guiding the tourists.
Remember Orchha is a small place and not an urban place where you do find women guides. Though there are hardly any in the mass segment that is completely dominated by men.
Lady Tourist Guide at Orchha
I asked her ‘ Are you also a guide’, she nodded and we asked her to come along. She did not even quote a price, she said ‘Didi, give me what you feel is right’. And her body language told me that she would actually take whatever I offer. And it is not very often that she gets hired. Her guiding skills were average or maybe even less. She was carrying a small book about Orchha in her hands that she told me she reads while waiting for the tourists. I am a tour guide’s nightmare, but I was very considerate with her. As I got interested in her story than the stories she should have told me.
Tourist Guide profession
I asked her how she chose this as a profession? And she said she saw other guides and thought she could also do this work. She started following them for a few days and mugged up facts and figures about the place and started guiding. She was preparing for the guide exams then.
After the palace, I asked her to come along with us to the rest of Orchha. At the Ramayana museum, I started showing her things and told her the stories she could tell. It is then she started talking and said she wants to become the best guide of Orchha. She asked me if she could? And by the end of the day, she wanted me to tell her everything that a tourist looks for in a good guide. She keenly observed what I was observing and kept asking me English words for many words that she wanted to explain.
Towards the end of the day, she took us to the local market for Gol Gappas and I have never had such cheap Gol Gappas. Premlata fought for extra Gol Gappas when the guy tried charging us more and we were more like friends by then. She refused to take a guide fee and I had to force her to take it.
Need More Tourist Guides
I do not know if she is still there and still guiding, but I hope her breed of lady tourist guide grows. These are the women who will bring the real change in India with their will to pursue excellence and in their perseverance to follow their heart. In my memory, she remains a silver lining that gives me hope for women and for tourists who definitely need better guides.
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