Ah, Jaunsar Bawar...
In Garhwal, so I've heard, every mother tells her grown sons - 'son, do not go upto Jaunsar-Bawar; if you must go, do not accept anyone's hospitality; and under no circumstances must you spend the night.'
The mothers of Garhwal tell their sons, 'son, beware of the women of Jaunsar...'
The mothers of Garhwal, though, are not afraid that their sons might be murdered during the night, or poisoned, or pushed off the hillsides, or even ensnared into a - Gasp! Heaven forbid! - marriage.
Legend has it that Jaunsar-Bawar is known for its hospitality. When you go there, they will bid you sit. They will feed you and give you whatever they have, to drink. They will share clothes, and beds. A journo friend in the region tells me, the hospitality extends to sharing their women as well.
I was most curious about how. I mean, isn't it a little awkward to offer your wife to a guest?
Friend told me, "Oh, the women offer themselves. After the guest is fed and given a bed to sleep in, the woman will massage his feet. And legs.... an offer is somehow made and accepted, at that point."
I wondered if anyone had ever rejected such a generous offer. My friend doesn't know, but she does know of a guy - another journalist - who refuses to spend the night in the region.
Stupid guy, I said.
My friend agreed.
I wondered whether the same hospitality extended to female guests.
Neither of us thought it possible, but I'm still wondering.... I wanted to ask the hill women, but I've heard that since the 'mainstreaming' process has begun, the locals resent being asked about local customs and traditions. They don't even like talking about polyandry, and are all set to beat up 'outsider' journalists who try to ask questions.
Somehow, it has been communicated to them that we 'outsiders' disapprove, and they, naturally, don't like being treated as curios at a museum. They don't want to be gawked at. They don't even like to admit that the practice exists.
Of course, this is all hearsay. Neither of us dared to actually go to Jaunsar, alone, and find out how hospitable the cultural climate was.
All the same, I wonder... would they extend similar hospitality to women guests? Would the men extend an offer, then, or the women? and would the women really beat me up, if I asked them about how they went about making the offer?
Perhaps, one of these days...