The Rajasthani Groom is a uniquely Indian phenomenon. Nowhere in the world, in any industry does there exist homogenous concentration of so many people who are all exactly the same in every possible way.
Every Rajasthani Groom’s story starts and ends in exactly the same manner, with one or two minor plot variations and it goes something like this:
His story starts in the womb. Here, he is supplied with a passport form and a visa application just before he is expelled from his lodging into the big bad sandy world.
His name is either Sawai Singh, Gopal Singh, Gyaan Singh, Shaitan Singh, Gulab Singh or Ummed Singh.(All of Rajasthan only has maybe 15 names that just get used and reused over and over again)
Fast forward a couple of years to a little village in the district of Jodhpur in Rajasthan. He lives with his father, his mother and his 30 brothers and sisters in the same home on 50,000 acres of land that produces almost nothing twice a year.
He grudgingly attends the village school for a few years and eventually drops out because who wants to go to school when you can spend all your time playing with sand or chasing camels. Right?
Soon after he quits his education he will come to realise that camels aren’t the best company and aimless loitering around the village isn’t a particularly productive or interesting pass-time.
It isn’t lucrative either and now that he is 13 years old the family has started pressuring him to earn his keep (and so that he will be an eligible marriage prospect when he hits the ripe mature age of 16).
Giving in to their demands he sets off to:
Work as a confectioner in a sweet shop,
Become a carpenter, a tiler OR, he will drive a beat up Mahindra Pick-Up truck and smuggle alcohol around the state.
He doesn’t hold down any one job for more than a year. Because stability is for South Indians.
One day, without any particular reason, his uncle who lives in Dubai decides that he has the talent to work at a racing stable in the middle east and offers to help him get a visa sponsored and a job.
He promises the boy a salary of 65,000 a month, lavish accommodation and easy working hours. The lad takes the bait. He will later be informed that this wonderful proposition will cost him 250,000 of which at least 200,000 is for the uncle for being so generous and benevolent..
He gets on a bus to Bombay, or Pune on the advice of his uncle and through some friends manages to land a job at a Riding School. Here he presents himself to a gullible proprietor (who, more times than not hasn’t a clue about what he is doing) stating that he has some experience and is looking for a long term position.
The proprietor then consults the man who referred him, and the staffer mentions that the boy is honest, hard working and is great with horses. He will, in less than 3 minutes, carry his sole piece of luggage over to the staff room (which for some reason is always a 12ftx12ft room no matter how many people live in it, with only one window near the door) and join his brethren.
They knowingly nod at each other, introduce themselves, inform each other of their contacts and clout in the village while establishing social hierarchies and in about 20 minutes, its like everyone in the room has known each other since pre-school. During this 20 minutes he will discover atleast 3 new relatives and perhaps even a brother in law.
The job he gets will be described in one of two ways:
1. 1/2 pay + food & board but will be allowed to ride.
2. Full pay + food and board and will ride anyway, even if he has to do it at 3 am without anyones knowledge.
His comrades will skillfully hide the fact that he knows absolutely nothing from his employer until he is able to make it look like he has been working with horses for at least some time.
A few months down, he has developed a rapport with his boss, has already proven he is trustworthy by going home on leave and returning a couple of times (yes, them actually coming back is a big deal). He has learnt how to ride, either by the resident instructor, or by one of his colleagues who once had 3 riding lessons.
He begins to use this trust to persuade his employer to occasionally recharge his cellphone, trust him with cash and, where possible, get access to as many avenues of revenue generation as possible.
Once he learns to administer injections and do dressings, he will also mysteriously disappear on occasion to go out as a part time veterinarian faithfully serving the other horses in the general area – for a fee of course. Only God can help his employer if he manages to learn how to trim a hoof and shoe a horse.
He will develop a skill for doing as little as possible while appearing to work hard, to possess knowledge he does not possess and demonstrates a professional loyalty that would put the knights of Europe to shame – and all while quietly doing all he can to find ways to make your life as difficult as possible. He will also learn to whine.
He will whine about the food, about the weather, about the TV reception and cell phone network. He will whine about the economy, about his shoes, his clothes and his wife. He will make sure to throw a complaint or two into just about every daily interaction with his employer.
He will also join hands with his compatriots to ensure than anyone on the staff that isn’t from within a 20 mile radius of his home town either packs his own bags and runs or is expelled by the boss over something or the other.
There is an old adage. One rajasthani groom is an army, but two are a union.
One day, and absolutely at random, sometime around 8pm, he will approach his boss who by now has grown not only to trust and rely on him, but is now almost dependent on him and the following conversation will take place:
“Sir, I’m going home tomorrow.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“My visa has come through, my ticket is on Friday. (It’s Wednesday)”
“But why didn’t you mention this before? You could have given me some time to find a replacement!”
“I need my salary dues…..tomorrow morning” (more often than not this is several months wages)
“My bus is at 7 am, can you give it to me before that?”
“Don’t worry sir, my friend is coming to replace me. He’ll be here in 2 days.”
“Ok sir? thank you.” (Walks out)
The next morning he will pack his bags and leave.
Upon his departure he will take any uniforms, shoes, t-shirts or tools issued to him by his employer similar to the way middle class tourists always carry away toiletries at hotels.
4 days later he finds himself in Dubai, his passport is taken away and he ends up working a 16 hour day riding antsy Arabs for 1/4 of the wages he was promised for the next two years.
He will fill his time with selfies, Facebook posts in broken english, subscribing to 700 whatsapp groups and by sending daily voice messages to every human he has ever met in his life. This is usually while he is working. In his spare time he will drink smuggled alcohol (somethings never change) and spend money carelessly instead of making the best of his new position and earnings.
When he finally gets his annual leave he gets home relatively wealthier and about 25 kgs lighter. He fixes up the house and gets married. Fifteen days later he is broke again and either looks for another opportunity to go abroad, or another riding school to bide his time at until the next work visa arrives.
And thus begins the cycle which continues for the rest of his working life. I personally do not know any who have lived past retirement age so I couldn’t tell you what they do then.
This is the life of more or less every Groom in the Equine Industry in India. The only consolation to employers here is the fact that every single one of them is exactly the same, and quite often the replacement will even have the same name as the last employee, making transitions between staff an easy and familiar process.
I have had the dubious pleasure of employing over 300 of these fine gentlemen over the course of the last 10 years or so and many will feature prominently in these pages. Stay tuned for more this week.