Chapter 11, Pt 2 of 5
INDIAN VILLAGE LIFE
Someone in the animal quarter was chopping fodder for the day. I also heard the jingling of the bells, which usually hung round the necks of buffaloes and cows; by that sound I gathered that my rider sister-in-law was busy milking the buffaloes. She often boasted that she could milk sixty to seventy buffaloes one after another.
Then I heard someone singing a bhajan (religious song) at the top of his voice as he walked along the lane, as much as to say, “Wake up. you lazy bones, it is time to pray and work.”
The two small windows in our room had no curtains and soon to my delight, I saw the daylight and the pale, warm sunshine coming through them. I slipped on my dressing gown and stood outside on the large stretch of our flat roof to admire the natural scenery around me.
I could see for miles around—there were no high buildings or hills to obstruct the view. Innumerable fields of wheat, maize, grain and mustard with bright yellow flowers, were stretched in front of me. Here and there were the tall sugar cane fields and also some mango and guava orchards. Then around the village I could see the tall thorny cactus, a few banyan, neem (margossa) and beri (edible berry) trees.
It was quite a small village inhabited by seventy to eighty families, the majority of whom lived on the small holdings and were naturally poor. There were no made-up roads, footpaths or drainage system, no electricity or piped water. The village maidens carried the earthenware pitchers and brass pots on their heads to and from the wells. They chattered and sang as they did these chores.
The sky was perfectly blue, the birds were flying to and fro with tremendous flurry and chattering noise. There were sparrows, crows, wild pigeons, parrots and, of course, the peacocks of picturesque plumage. I spotted one sitting on the brick wall not far from me. I could have watched it for hours. I wanted it to dance and spread out its beautiful feathers but it didn’t oblige.
My sister-in-law came up and asked if we wanted “Bed-tea” before using the commode as was customary with “England returned” people.
“No,” I said, “we hadn’t developed that habit,” and she couldn’t believe it.
Two commodes were placed for us on the more secluded side of the flat roof, but even then you could hardly call that corner “Private!” The people could still see us from their rooftops if they wanted to. And besides, I came to know that they had no “mehtar” (a polite title for the village scavenger) who is always treated with respect and consideration by the whole community though they may not touch him or eat with him.
“Who is going to clean our commodes?” I asked my sister-in-law after breakfast.
“Please don’t worry about that,” she replied, “we don’t mind doing anything for you and Vijay.”
“No,” I said to her, “I won’t have that, we will go to the fields to do our jobs like the rest of you.”
But I didn’t find it easy to go back to this primitive custom. I had to creep into a tall and fairly dense sugar-cane field and settle down in a tiny space while my sister-in-law kept watch, around, for any intruders. What a difference from sitting in a clean, shiny lavatory with a newspaper to pass the time away! The only things to attract one’s attention there amongst the sugar canes were the tiny creepy crawly insects darting about in all directions. I made quite a study of them.
It was a real performance to take Vijay to the fields. I had to carry a large roll of toilet paper because he flatly refused to use water for the purpose. I settled him down in a secluded corner and held his pants and the roll while he tried to oblige. Suddenly he would jump up and shout, “I can see someone coming,” and so we would start all over again!
Nevertheless, this compulsory walk early in the morning to and from the fields was most refreshing and exhilarating. It gave us a good start for the day.
Vijay was intrigued to see his aunties and others cleaning their teeth with the small twigs of neem tree (which is supposed to be highly antiseptic). They would cut the fresh twigs every day, mash them a little at one end, then clean their teeth, mouths and tongues with these improvised instruments. They discarded the twigs afterwards and gargled and rinsed their mouths with cold water.
Before the day advanced our visitors started coming in small groups. A couple of charpais with homespun white sheets spread on them were placed in the compound for us all to sit on.