Chapter 11, Pt 3 of 5

INDIAN VILLAGE LIFE

“Come daughter,” my mother-in-law said to me, “come and greet the visitors.”

I was pleased to do that for a while. I bowed down to the riders and embraced the younger womenfolk and children.

“Sit down, daughter.” said one of the elderly ladies, “and tell us all about England. Is it a big place? It must be quite near Bombay.” I had to suppress my laughter over that.

It was difficult to hold a conversation for long and they would be quite content just to sit and stare and yet I would become fidgety. I wanted to read, knit or do something but no, that would be an insult to them. Now that the opportunity had come for me to take a complete rest, I didn’t want it. I longed for some work or excitement, and I wasn’t disappointed for long.

A little girl in Salvar Kamiz and bare feet came running towards the compound and shouted for my younger sister-in-law, who is a teacher by profession. “Come quick, sister,” the girl bellowed, “Bhagat Singh has chopped a piece of his leg off and it is bleeding fast.”

“He wouldn’t die of it,” she shouted back. “That silly so-and-so, he is always doing something! Tell him to put a little urine on it, that will stop the bleeding.”

In the meantime, another neighbour, this time a lady, came running to her. “Oh, Suraksha Bibi come quickly, his leg is still bleeding.”

“Then he must chop it off altogether. Here, take this piece of cloth and hold it there.”

I began to get anxious, and restless. I wanted to run to him myself instead of sitting there like a block ornament.

“I should go now and bandage it up,” I urged Suraksha ji, very quietly.

“I will go in a minute, don’t you worry my dear sister,” she said. “Our villagers are a tough lot, and these wounds are simply flea-bites to them, they get over them very quickly.”

This was true enough in most cases. There was no resident doctor, nurse or midwife in Muradpur, though there was a small hospital in Hariana, about three to four miles away from the village. Most of the ailments were treated by the few wise men and women who kept a variety of medicinal herbs and oils which they used for massage and ear-aches.

My mother-in-law was well known for delivering babies and she simply idolised babies and children of all ages.

“What nonsense,” she would say, “when a mother stops breast-feeding a child after one year only. She ought to do that for three years at least.” And I saw quite a few mothers following her advice.

“The children should be put on a pedestal like the kings. They should have whatever we can give them. They should never be neglected or treated harshly.”

What surprised me was that, to the village parents, their children never grew up. No matter what they became or did in the outside world, in the village, and to their parents they were still children to be loved and even coddled.

Vijay, who was now ten years old, was asked to sit in his grandmother’s lap so much that he would automatically go and settle down there.

The following day after breakfast, I was reclining on a charpai on our flat roof and shading my face from the brilliant sun with the tail end of my sari. My son sat beside me reading aloud a story. The birds around us were screeching and chattering as usual. They were a noisy lot, but soon I realised that we humans could be much noisier than them.

There was a sudden stir in the village and we heard noises coming from the neighbourhood. The men and women were talking nineteen to the dozen; you couldn’t make head nor tail of their talk. Suraksha ji came rushing upstairs to watch the scene from the surrounding low wall. She perched Vijay on top of it so that he could get a better view. In a flash, quite a few of us were leaning on the wall to witness this gathering storm, which was only a few doors away from us.

Flocked on a mound of rubble in between the two dilapidated huts were men, women and children who had formed themselves in two groups and were shouting at the top of their voices, waving their hands, arms and also a few sticks about, to make their points clear.

“Ah, it is going to be a fight I think.” Vijay seemed excited and wanted his auntie to carry him down on her shoulders to see it.

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