Of course it wasn't all poverty and desperation in India. Our group managed a jolly day on December 25th with a lavish lunch, Indian-brewed champagne (which wasn't nearly as disgusting as it sounds) and Secret Santa presents.
But it was New Year's eve that claimed most attention and demanded much ingenuity. Compulsory Indian fancy-dress meant scouring the local markets for baubles, and a couple of hilarious visits to bemused merchants in Bijaipur village. The 'boys' of the group went collectively to the nearest tailor to be kitted out with pyjama suits and turbans but my own costume demands were such that I had to be diverted to a separate, female, seamstress who agreed to manufacture, overnight, not just a sari and choti but a pair of magnificent fake breasts, complete with triple-pinch-pleated nipples, so I could impersonate Mother India herself, Indira Gandhi.
Since no-one in Bijaipur has access to the internet, it was a feat of collective memory to re-create Indira's streaked hair-do and habitual plain sari - everything in Rajasthan is so darned colourful, white is considered almost obsolete! But with the help of the wonderful Maneka and her husband, the beauty and massage therapists, even the make-up was achieved more or less.
as you can see, Maharajah Narendra seemed delighted at his ghostly guest and took pride in introducing 'Mrs Gandhi' to everyone. He even asked her to dance, which was the moment at which it all went horribly wrong.
About two minutes into my one-woman Bhangra display, I felt the most terrible pain in my calf and thought first of all (I had had several cocktails at this point) that I'd been shot, possibly in some ghastly re-creation of Indira's own assassination. A fellow holidaymaker was a GP and helpfully pointed out that it was probably a torn gastrocnenius muscle and there was nothing to be done but hobble for the next four to six weeks whilst it sorted itself out.
Fortunate perhaps, because in that get-up it would have been a long night in A&E ...
I crawled, literally, the three flights to bed and spent a restless night, not least because the magnificent firework display planned for midnight was launched from the platform immediately above my bedroom - and despite craning my neck from every available window I couldn't actually see much of anything, just hear the third world war breaking out overhead.
The next morning I limped into an eerily quiet Bijaipur village - nothing to do with it being New Year's Day, but most of the shops and businesses were closed because of cow-rustling. Somewhere nearby, a (sacred) cow had been killed and men arrested for selling the meat. It was extraordinary to see the lowering impact this had on the population, an odd combination of collective shame, mourning and disgust. It also highlighted for me the strange situation in India where so many people are starving whilst meat walks amongst them unmolested, such is the power and conviction of the Hindu faith you can do nothing but marvel at it.
So, in the muted village, I managed to find an open pharmacy and to buy over the counter, oh the delight of not needing prescriptions for anything, some Diclofenac anti-inflammatory pain killers. Since the pharmacy dealt in both human and veterinary preparations, I'm not sure which I received and think they may either have been horse pills, or human suppositories, but I swallowed them like they were M&Ms.
Six weeks later, I'm on the mend. But I won't be Bhangra dancing for a while.