Chapter 11, Pt 1 of 5
INDIAN VILLAGE LIFE
It is the duty of every married Hindu woman to try to love and respect her husband’s parents and relatives as much as her own, sometimes even more so. Her own parents understand that, and they encourage her in upholding this tradition.
So Vijay and I left for Sheel’s ancestral home in Muradpur Guruka in the Hoshiarpur District, about five to six hours train journey from Montgomery. We reached Hoshiarpur in the evening time and were met by two of our relatives at the station.
The six miles’ ride in the tonga (horse and cart) to the village was very dusty, bumpy and uncomfortable, but full of chatter and friendliness. The tonga walla (coachman) had to walk beside the horse holding the reins and the hurricane lamp for the last stretch of the two-and-a-half miles of unmade road which was full of ruts. To Vijay it was all part of the fun.
“I can see people coming towards us with the lamps,” he shouted. He was right, because the jungle telegraph had already informed our relatives and neighbours about our arrival and they were coming to greet us.
As soon as we entered the village front and dismounted, the womenfolk who were gathered there started weeping loudly. It dawned on me after a minute or two that this mourning was for the death of my father-in-law, which had occurred about eight months back, and, as they hadn’t seen me before to express their condolences, they were doing so now. A few tears came to my eyes quite readily though I was unable to join the weeping chorus. Vijay looked bewildered and tearful, too. I should have warned him but somehow I myself had forgotten about this tradition.
After about ten minutes of this mourning atmosphere, I heard a lady shout out: “All right, that is enough. Pull yourselves together, ladies.” Then slowly the weeping began to subside. I am sure a few of them at least, had just pretended to cry and didn’t need much persuasion to release each other’s arms (they usually do this weeping in pairs) and wipe their faces and eyes with the corners of their white kadi (homespun cotton) head-dresses.
Now, it was my turn to come forward and touch, first my mother-in-law’s feet and then those of the rest of the elderly men and women gathered there. They gave me their blessings in return and the ladies embraced me tenderly.
They took us to our front door and then asked us to wait until they performed a small ceremony of pouring oil on the threshold to ward off the evil.
So, at last we were inside our village home, which might have been a large mud-hut years ago but was now a brick building with three fair-sized rooms and a small verandah. In one corner of the compound was the chowka, an open-air kitchen, where leather shoes, dogs and cats or any other unclean objects were taboo. The person, who squatted on the mat beside the mud-cum-brick stove, saw to it that the rule was strictly preserved. She also fed the fire with long pieces of wood, dried twigs and dung-cakes.
The flat-roof had an attic, which made a perfect bedroom (without the Western kind of furniture, of course) for Vijay and me. Before going up we were given two bowls of warm water to wash our hands and feet. Then a simple meal of vegetable curry, lentils and chapatis was placed before us, which we were persuaded to eat in the presence of quite a few ladies and children. They even followed us upstairs showing us the way with the lamps.
Just before we settled down to sleep Surakshaji (my younger sister-in-law) brought hot well-sweetened milk for us in two shiny metal tumblers.
“No, I want my drink in a proper glass,” Vijay insisted, and they satisfied him.
Left alone at last, we turned off the lamps and snuggled down between the sheets with eiderdowns on top because the nights were quite cold.
I woke up very early (about six) and listened to a variety of sounds (and noises), which floated up to me from the surrounding neighbourhood.
In a mud-hut nearby, a lady was turning the handle of her primitive grinding mill, made of two rounded heavy stones, the top one having a hole in the middle. She wanted to make sure to have enough flour for her family. My own mother-in-law downstairs was churning the curd to get butter out of it. She was making the most soothing, rhythmic sound, as she pulled the ropes of the churn back and forth.