|present day- |
first i should preface this entry with an introduction to another of the families in ratlam that have adopted me. rasheed was one of the vegetable vendors that came to the house in samta nagar. when he called me ‘mummy’ my heart was won forever. he was not married at the time, but over the years i was there to come to know his wife and four children that followed. they became an integral part of my daily life. rasheed knew i was interested in villages, so he had asked me early on to come to the farm, and i jumped at the chance. i can never remember the name of the village, but it is on the second last stop from piploda on the bus from ratlam, situated near the rajasthan border. what follows is a blog entry that i wrote about it:
Begin at the beginning...
Sunday morning shortly after 7 am, Rasheed arrived to bring me to the village. We walked some distance, then took a minibus to the Sailana bus stand. There we bought some namkeen and biscuits for his family and waited for the bus. The bus ride was pleasant, there were plenty of empty seats and the heat of the day had not yet begun. About an hour and a half later we reached the stop near his farm.
It was quite a small bus stand, only two corners had dhabas with water, snacks and telephones, and the bullock cart tied to two huge black bulls was already there waiting. Rasheed's older brother was driving, and three little girls were already sitting inside. It was a much rougher ride than I had ever imagined-whatever I would try to hold onto didnt seem to be stationary, though attached to the cart, and it was so bumpy that I bounced up and down on the wooden floor. When the rough part of the road began it got worse, and then there was a sort of path made of large stones-then every trace of anyone having traveled before was no longer visible to my cataract covered eyes.
We reached the farmhouse after how much time I can only guess to be about 20 minutes. The ride had been at times slow when the ground was more treacherous, sometimes deep gullies caused us to rush downwards suddenly at breakneck speed and then slowly strain to get up the other side-it was more like a roller coaster than anything else I had ever ridden. Time by now had become meaningless. There were not many big trees around, and the sun was blazing down.
The village is made of many large farms with clusters of farmhouses and some small areas of city type doll-sized bungalows with drainage ditches along the pathways. Rasheed's house was an oblong shape, the front half being an open porch with an enclosed kitchen to the left side, and behind was a single large room. The roof was made of corrugated strips of aluminum, floors were dirt and behind the house about 5 or 6 feet back was a latrine, not outdoor type, but indian style toilet inside a closet sized structure with metal roof piece used as a door. Next door was an identical house, and on the other side of the path which was the main road into town was a row of smaller houses.
In front of Rasheed's house were tied three goats-and two huge buffalo each with a calf, a cow and her two calves, and the two huge bulls who pulled the cart were tied respectively and separately in front and in back of the house. There was a huge tree alongside the road which ran parallel to the house and a wall of cowpie cakes were stacked up and dry sticks which together made fuel for the cooking stove.
The furniture that I can remember seeing was one double size and one single size bedframe made of iron, the top flat pieces in basketweave pattern, covered with the piece of industrial plastic that had been in the bullock cart, a couple of plastic lawn chairs, and a tiny wooden framed bed with rope woven as a mattress foundation sagging across it. As the sun moved along its path in the sky, the outdoor seating arrangement was changed so as to remain in the shade. Some of us would sit on the porch and some outside; there was a ceiling fan over the porch and one inside as well, but the electricity was only available from 6-8 am, noon to 3 pm and 8-10 pm. However, there was a nice breeze always coming and it was quite comfortable, even though it was in the month of May. There were various photos and plaques hung on the walls and niches cut in odd places holding things I could not recognize without appearing to be inspecting them, so I never found out what everything was.
The immediate family consisted of Rasheed's mom and dad, his big brother, wife and five children. Rasheed's wife Sultana had arrived a day ahead of us to help prepare for the occasion. I learned there were 25 houses belonging to more relatives living there in the village-i think about half of the village in total are their family members.
Most of daily life in the village revolves around bringing water from the well and caring for the animals. Various types of fodder were stacked up on the far side of where they were penned and given to them during the day, and when it was time for water they were taken a few at a time to the well. The well was across the road the house faced, and the sound of the handpump went on almost continuously as ladies and young girls with different sized steel or plastic containers came to collect what was needed for their households. At our house, the dishwashing, tooth brushing, handwashing and ritual ablution area was in front of the house, where most containers were covered and stored. Some containers were taken to the kitchen, and one kept in the latrine.
I dont know where the laundry was done, but it didnt seem that it would be done very often. Only Rasheed and I changed clothes all the time I was there. The work was quite different from life where I live, there was no washing the dust off the floors, only sweeping since they were made of mud-so much dust everywhere all the time, it seemed senseless to change clothes. A lot of cleaning up after the animals of course, cooking, fetching water, yet they found time to spend together talking and joking, ladies and men together. Rasheed and I had meals there on the porch, and everyone else ate either in the kitchen or some other place where I couldnt see them. We stopped during the day for tea often, sometimes guests or other residents would arrive to pass some time. One lady had come from near Ratlam bringing wedding invitations. I then realized how it would be impossible for me to receive any mail if I lived in a village!
Rasheed said rather apologetically that there was no television to pass the time, but I assured him that what I was watching was far more interesting to me. Where was the need for television? It was a truly new atmosphere for me, far more peaceful than ratlam, no sign of tension of any kind. I could understand how people living this lifestyle would be oblivious to the outside world; they coexist in a different world that is as far as they know unaffected by politics, industry, economics. I asked rasheed if he preferred Ratlam, where he has worked and lived for ten years or the village, and he said the village. I asked which his wife, who is from a very large city, preferred and he said the village.
There are no vegetables available there, but there is another village nearby which they buy from-how they get there I dont know, either by bullock cart or bus I would imagine. There is a masjid, but no azaan-is there an imam, I didnt ask. There is no doctor-for that they must go to Piploda. Some people there had tractors, but I dont know where they had to go to buy gasoline. Some people had motorcycles, which sped by every now and then, always young boys, some going to work some distance away. As far as the eye could see there was no blight-no plastic bags hanging from trees, etc.
I got a call from my family in Ratlam asking what was the name of the village, and I had Rasheed speak to them. They were concerned about my decision to go since they didnt know Rasheed and I had barely just met him. I believe he was a little upset about it and almost thought to take me back home that same night. Initially he had asked me if I wanted to go home in the evening or stay til the morning, and I said stay. Then after the phone call he asked me again did I want to stay or go that evening, and I felt he had changed his mind, so I said I wanted to stay but realized that he would have to miss work another day, and he said that was true and we should leave in the evening. He asked me during the day many times who it was that had called, why did they call, and most of what he said I couldnt understand, but I could see that the incident was unsettling to him and his mother. But I tried as best I could in my limited hindi to tell him it was nothing more than the family wanted to know the name of the village which I hadnt been able to tell them, so they could have some idea of where I was. He became at ease after some time and again asked me when I wanted to go home and I said I thought he had decided not to take another day off work, and he said we should stay the night, so I agreed. It is very interesting to see how much work has to be put into communication and what are the results when there is so little verbal understanding. It becomes essential to be able to rely on intuition and to express your emotions honestly on other levels.
We went for a walk to see some of the other houses, a school, the masjid. We stopped to talk to more relatives. Rasheed specifically asked for a photo of himself next to the dargah and also in front of a bush bursting with red flowers at a neighbor's house. We sat and had tea at the house of yet another relative, an old fellow smoking, who was certain that everyone in America was naked.
The second oldest daughter had the job of taking the goats somewhere for a walk twice a day as I found out, and she seemed to especially love them. Everyone had their specific duties-bhabhi was the one who washed the dishes, the three older girls and Rasheed's wife were the ones who brought water from the well. Big brother brought food for the animals as needed and took them to the well for water while the girls would work the handpump to fill containers for them to drink from. Bhabhi or the older girls from time to time swept the porch and area outside the front of the house.
Then after lunch we went for a ride in the bullock cart to see some of the farm, which was that large so I couldnt have walked-parts of it were well beyond the horizon from the vantage point of the house. I felt that I might improve riding with practice, and began to limber up. There were wheat fields, garlic, one area Rasheed said had been spoiled and grew nothing. In the garlic field I met some more relatives who were working at the harvest which would be sold in rajasthan. I saw huge wells being created to catch rainwater during the monsoon to save for other times. I had my camera and took photos.
When we returned it was time for zuhr, so I did wuzhu and they prepared a place for me in the house to offer namaz. I didnt see anyone else doing namaz, and I am not sure they know how, though I saw them doing wuzhu. Rasheed cannot read the Quran, so maybe nobody knows the arabic prayers either. There was only a short while before it was time for asr, and just as I finished they were calling me to come see the camels and bring my camera. There was an entire caravan of at least five camels, each being led by a lady and I could see the heads of children I assume were not yet weaned looking out over the top of the basket on each camel's back. They stopped for water at the well and were eating leaves off the trees high above the ground. There was also two donkeys carrying huge baskets and a young one with them. Later I learned there is no food or water in rajasthan this time of year so they have to leave home for some time. Where the men were or the older children I dont know, apparently this was ladies' work.
Now I had been wondering what the bathroom would be like. Though I had been drinking surely litres of water I felt no need to visit, but it occurred to me that after dark it would be a lot more difficult. At one time earlier I had asked 'dont you have any lizards?' and Sultana joked 'they are in the latrine'. So I decided I would have to get going. As it turned out, it was spic and span and no trouble at all, not a single lizard or anything in there with me. Not only that but I had to make a second visit after dinner when it was dark and with a flashlight! I hadnt wanted to have two meals, but they made dal bafla and we ate outside in the dark, and I mean it was so dark I couldnt see anything in my plate at all.
We waited for isha and after namaz we were ready to sleep. I was outside by the goats in front of the house on a metal bed, sturdy and wonderfully flat, with a thin comfortable mattress and an extra pillow to raise my knees. There was no need of the blanket. We called a few relatives on my mobile and talked awhile. There was a beautiful breeze and I remember asking Rasheed if it was going to rain, and he said 'oh no, never'. All the family was sleeping in various places on the porch and rasheed also outside in the smaller bed. Lying down on my back I could look up above my head and see the most beautiful moon shining out from behind thin wispy clouds drifting across it. I said 'what a beautiful sight' and someone joked 'take a photo!' but by then the memory in my camera was full. I had shot 55 pictures in all, and Rasheed learned right away how to use it and also took some. I could easily have shot another 100 there was so much to see. I drifted off to sleep almost instantly. I was awakened later by soft, cool raindrops falling on the dupatta covering my face, and they gave me a fit of the giggles.
It was such an impossible situation! One by one the others woke, Rasheed last. I didnt want to move, but I could hear Rasheed's mummy saying the mattress would be ruined in the rain and we had to move out of it. As we were carrying everything into the house the wind kept getting stronger and stronger, tearing across the countryside with almost no trees or buildings to slow it down. After some time it quieted down, and everyone moved back outside leaving me and one member who was still asleep. They lit a small lamp on a table next to me which worried me, and it was terribly stuffy and seemed to get hotter. After some time the mosquitoes arrived, brought on by the rain I suppose. I was feeling very unhappy and when the light blew out and someone came in to relight it they realized I was not asleep and I said that it was too hot, so they moved me back outside again, bed and all.
Once again I settled down, feeling so very comfortable and knowing that nothing would prevent me from sleeping while I was outside. But only a short time later, I awoke once again as rain began to fall, and this time the wind was even more fierce. I pretended to be asleep and hoped it would stop and we wouldnt be disturbed, but i could hear the word 'cyclone' being bantered about, and rather quickly everyone moved all of us back inside once again. This time the wind managed to tear off one of the metal strips on the roof, making a terrible clatter as it flew off who knows where or how far. Two of the men went outside to see what the damage was, and most of the family were talking for some time. It was the longest night I think I have ever experienced, and certainly the most unusual. The youngest child, who was sleeping next to me, had a bad cold and now began to cough continuously. The mosquitoes no longer bothered me, probably because they had found someone more appealing to attack. I was disappointed to think I would have to spend the rest of the night inside, but it was just as unpleasant for everyone else, and again when the wind died down and rain stopped we transferred ourselves and all our gear outside. Even then I think it was only about 2 am, so there was plenty of time to still sleep, which I did.
The next thing I remember is hearing the sound of an army of animals chomping away, and I found myself not to be the first one awake at all. There were many empty places on the porch floor next to my bed, scattered among the blanket covered shapes of the lazy ones. Outside were two beds, the small one where I imagined Rasheed would be though he was completely covered with a blanket so I could only guess. There was the other small bed which I hadnt seen before, and a red blanket covering someone who later turned out to be his mummy. When she got up she limped, and seeing the condition of the bare ropes that had been sagging under her it was not at all surprising. Rasheed's wife was already bringing water from the well, and bhabhi was in the kitchen perhaps. The only ones still asleep were the children, Rasheed and his papa, who had been smoking bidis at various intervals during the night whenever we were disturbed by the weather.
I sat watching the animals and work going on quite satisfied until it looked like I should get up and try to fold the bedding. Rasheed was the last to wake up. I visited the latrine and he asked if I would like to take a bath. I said I would wait til I got back home, thinking we were taking the 7am bus, but he asked me several times. Then he suggested after a while. We had tea and biscuits. I remember his mother asking me if I wanted to take a bath the day before, and I said no because I had already that morning. I began to think they must be very proud of their bathroom, so the next time it was mentioned I decided to oblige. I remember Rasheed saying I should take my other clothes out of my bag...I think he was very conscious of people changing clothes in the world but not on the farm. The bathroom was a separate structure about the size of a shower some distance from the front of the house. They were happy to bring water for me, and being in the open space and sunlight I found it quite pleasant.
Afterwards we took a walk around to meet some more people. I asked what time the bus was coming and Rasheed said noon. I met the relatives who made mava from milk by boiling it, which was sold to the people who make sweets. They gave me some to try and I didnt want to eat all they gave me, knowing how expensive it is. I managed to get Rasheed to finish it. There were various ways of making money, as I learned the extra milk from the buffalo would be sold to the milkman.
Meanwhile work was going on with papa and big brother repairing the damage to the roof. We were getting ready to create a sitting place in the shade around the house when one of the bulls started to make a lot of noise, and we went to see what was going on. He was tied up near the side of the house the main road was on and had seen some 3 to 5 bullock carts coming pulled by the white species of bulls, maybe they are oxen technically. For whatever reason he decided he didnt want them to pass, and they had stopped probably because they knew from experience that it was the best thing to do. I have no doubt that bull could easily have pulled the stake out of the ground where he was tied or broken the rope, though they told me he couldnt. He was blowing breath through his nose and pawing the ground with his left front foot, also emptying his body of whatever materials he could muster. It took some time for him to get over the situation, but eventually he quieted down somewhat and they passed by. Even then he was breathing heavily for an hour afterwards. The day before I had seen the second youngest child carrying a big stick and escorting him back home from the well while Rasheed looked after them from a short distance. This same animal when he would be brought to the cart was eager to get into gear and start working, though sometimes a bit faster than requested. How amazing is the relationship between man and beast.
We sat down to lunch about 11:30 am. Preparations were being made for the return trip. Rasheed's wife, his brother's wife, the oldest and the youngest children were to accompany us all the way home. I was having more difficulty riding in the bullock cart and begged to get out and walk part of the way. I was very relieved to finally reach the bus stand. When we got on the bus, there were no seats left, and we were packed in like sardines. The entire ride was like being in traction, most of the time my two arms stretched out in different directions, grabbing onto whatever I could find that was made of metal and trying to keep from falling because there would be no hope of getting up again before someone else was on top of me. I doubted I would be able to walk at all by the time we reached home, my knees would surely cave in and both arms would fall off. My neck was beginning to hurt, and I cursed my body silently all the way home thinking it would never move again.
When we arrived, Rasheed and I took an autorickshaw to see a doctor while his family went home. I told him to accompany them while I waited, but he said they would be all right. As it turned out there was too much of a crowd at the doctor and he said he would come back alone in the morning. He had told me he wasnt well and I could clearly see that now and have begun to worry a lot. He dropped me off at the house, I gave him some water to drink and he went on his way. He had been admiring my bag and showing it to his mother saying he would like to have it or one like it. I told him it was a set of two matching pieces I bought from america the last time I was there. But I didnt mention that I had another better bag from india that I really didnt need to keep, and later decided to give to him the next day.
I woke up the next morning in my bed in Ratlam realizing that I had no pain at all, and as the day progressed I found I felt better than I had in years. Before I went to the farm I had a small hope that the real me might wake up there-that one who didnt think it is a major calamity to get feet wet or clothes dirty...that one who used to climb up hills of stone and slide down slopes of mud without ever falling or stumbling. Maybe all that happened is I am more aware now of the presence of the one who is sleeping and unable to take part in this reality. I am better able now to properly mourn the loss of the essence of life and my identity...to realize the price we have paid for technology. I think now it would be impossible for me to go back to the time before I have been corrupted and it is almost an obligation now or responsibility for me to try to wake up anyone else who may still have a chance of being who they really are. I know I will be accused of romanticizing or being deluded by the dream of the 'noble savage', but it isnt a dream...it's a memory.
Maybe this is what gitanjali is all about....the lives we live with such a lack of perception and participation.
What if we were conscious of every minute of our lives?
...What if we were conscious?