Reblogged: Weekend in the Village (Part 1 – A day in the Life)

Reblogged is a series of blog posts on my life in India coming from the weblogs I set-up. It’s an attempt to put the stories all in one place! The post Weekend in the Village (Part 1 – A Day in the Life…) was originally posted on May 9, 2013 via the Project365: Volunteers for Change weblog I set-up with my VSO volunteer batch. I spent a weekend with the family of my colleague and friend Charu at her mother’s hometown in Taloshi, Mahad, Maharashtra. This is a two-part story for the events and scenes from May 4-8.

Early morning trek into the mountains

Many volunteers here in India are based in rural areas, if not in State capitals that would seem laid back if compared to the fast-paced life in mega cities. I am among the few who are based in mega cities like Delhi and, in my case, Mumbai. Well, technically, I am based in Navi Mumbai, more or less 30 minutes outside Mumbai. In any case, what I am driving at is I live in the city where everything is available–running hot and cold water, air conditioner, cold filtered water, English-style T&B (a necessity for most volunteers), internet, cable TV, restaurants, supermarkets, cinemas, etc. In short, one may say that I have no right to complain about my placement in terms of location.

Crystal Plaza, Kharghar

But, the thing is, in the past days, I can’t think of anything else but to get out of Kharghar (my node here in Navi) and go to the villages. Kyu?! (Why?!) I am not particularly sure but I am just glad that my wish has been granted through my genie, Charu–a colleague and friend from YUVA Centre. I think it was two weeks ago when Charu and I were just talking and I was telling her I can’t wait to go to YUVA Rural in Nagpur (North Eastern Maharashtra) coz I want to see the villages and learn new things about the culture and yep, rural development activities (since it is now my field back in the Philippines), in the Indian setting. She told me that she is going home to her village (Taloshi, Mahad) to celebrate a festival and that I am invited to come if I like. And you know, being the shy *ehem* me, I asked if she was sure (maybe she was just taking pity on me and being nice) and if I won’t be any inconvenience. Her answer: “You know, 40, 50 people come. One more is not a problem!” with a wink at the end! 🙂 So yeah, two weeks after, after three hours of Bala’s uber fast driving, at about 10:30 on a dark Friday night, I found myself in an Indian village for the first time! And the rest is history…chos! :p

Mehndi (Indian henna tattoo) session with Charu

I woke up in the morning not to the sun trying to get past the tinted window nor to a noisy alarm clock nor to the the sound of the trucks and cars passing through the flyover near my place. On Saturday morning, when I usually wake up at 11 or later, I opened my eyes to a different kind of lights and sounds–the sun shining freely on my face, the sound of cows walking about, and the innocent laughter of children playing downstairs. It was only then that I remembered that I was somewhere kilometers away from the city, far from the hustle and bustle of Navi.

Oh hello there, village houses! (I feel like a child!)

Our sleeping area was on the 1st floor (technically, it’s 2nd floor coz the ground floor is called 0 floor, or something like that, here in India) so I had a good view of the surrounding houses (which are mostly single-storey), complete with the trees and of course, the cows! 🙂

Indians usually sleep on the floor, covered by mats (plastic banig) or some sort of quilted sheets

Rupali (or Sanskruti, if you’d prefer her name that was changed after marriage), one of Charu’s aunts (by marriage), went up to offer chay (tea, with sugar and milk) to those who are already awake. I like my tea sweet but Indian chay is just too sweet for me! Still, I wanted to complete my “morning at a rural area” experience plus I can’t really say no to Rupali’s “Chay-with-a-smile” offer. I was right though, it was sweet. Though not as sweet as the way Rajesh from the cafeteria makes it!

Chay chahiye?!

While having my tea, Charu’s mom came upstairs for something and motioned for me to follow her downstairs. Actually, that came with instructions in Marathi that I was not able to understand. :p Downstairs, she endorsed me to Charu’s grandfather who greeted me good morning. I was told he understands and can speak some English.

The Ancestral House, towering over the village (with own tap!) I’m not sure who’s house it is exactly (Charu’s Dada or uncles perhaps) but most of us stayed here

Dada (meaning Grandpa) then brought me to the front porch/terrace and made me sit while he continued his floor sweeping duties. I took the opportunity to go people watching (just observing the people passing by) while the sun gently touches my face. I closed my eyes and I thanked God for the opportunity to find some inner peace.

That is, until Prathamesh, Charu’s cousin, startled me. He thought I was getting bored so asked if I would be interested to go trekking (first photo). Well, of course I was! During the trek, I got an insight on what goes on the mind of an Indian guy–on life, love, family, friends and career.

Say hello to Prathamesh, while sharing his passion for music and his woes on love, friends and future
For a quick but incomplete summary: Prathamesh is a 21-year-old Sound Engineer from a middle class family (most likely Kshatriya since Charu is one, unless his dad is of another caste which does not usually happpen). He grew up and is based in Mumbai. He has been working for the past 1.5-2 years (not really sure), broken up with his 2-year GF a year ago (I can’t be sure if he has moved on or not), and is an introvert-extrovert, depending on the crowd he is with. Most of what he is saying would sound egoistic or narcissistic (I did tell him about it) for those with closed minds. Fortunately, I kind of got past the “I”, “me”, D, S and F words coming out from his mouth and understood that like any other, he is just another guy who wants to make something of himself and be remembered for all his feats. After the trek and some more conversation thereafter, I believe he has the motivation and drive to make him succeed. (Narci, if you are reading this, you know you owe me good coffee and cake for all the great words written, right? Hahaha)
Finding peace and contentment in the middle of the dried-up jungle (I wonder how this place would look in the rainy/green season)
After the trekking exercise, I had a bath and proceeded for breakfast. Like most of the food I have been eating here in India, I forgot it’s name. It was some sort of white rice/vermicceli/coconut-with-puto-consistency looking food. It didn’t taste spicy, a bit salty and a bit sweet–if my taste buds haven’t failed me yet. :p After breakfast, Charu asked if I wanted to come with them as they wash clothes in the river. Of course I said yes! 🙂
One of the rivers where women wash clothes, children swim, and buffalos (carabaos) go for a dip (how to see: one woman from far left, Charu’s group of three at the middle, and the lady washers’ club on the far right) (in fairness, the buffalos mostly came later than the ladies. they were quick too!)
Another lady in a separted portion of the river (her man, I assumed, was the swimming/fishing guy)
The lady washers’ club! I dunno if this is an area exclusive to their group or what but the other ladies who went to wash clothes did not join them

I guess the situation is the same in many-a-villages in the Philippines where the luxury of a continuously running tap water is limited to but a few, if and when it is made available. Charu’s family actually have one, so I was not entirely sure why we had to go to the river. But it was great coz I enjoyed it. Hehe.

Off the ladies go and in comes the buffalo!

Anyway, after about 30minutes or so, the ladies finished two bucket-full of clothes and the kids, Charu’s son Aditya and his two girl cousins, had to be fished out of the water. Bala, Charu’s husband, drove us back to the village and we got ready for lunch which will take place in the forest, about a 10-minute walk from their house.

Bala and Charu, my gracious hosts, under the merciless sun! (Bala was complaining I haven’t taken even one photo of him so we really had to stop!!! Hahaha)

Earlier, the Mausis (her mom’s siblings) and Aunties (her mom’s cousins or wives of her uncles) went to the forest near Shiva’s temple to cook the food. Lunch is also to be partaken in the forest where it was cooked. This is part of the festival which is taking place today, Tuesday (which I totally missed due to work). The festival comes only once in three years!

hairavnath Mandir (Bhairu Temple) in Taloshi The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Worshippers offer foods after cooking and before partaking the food. Flowers were also given and incense candles were lit. Coconuts (brown, no shell) are smashed/opened at prayers.
The youngsters ate first with the Mausis and Aunties serving. Rupali is the one in Green and Red saree, handing out papad (crispy side). I think Sagar, Charu’s like-a-foreigner-coz-he’s-so-fair brother, wanted some too. Hehe. Peace!
It’s our turn! Charu’s sexiest uncle, Pratamesh and Rani’s dad, asked me to sit with him and got everyone to keep putting food in my no-more-space plate! Charu said: Finish everything, Gera! (Hello bilbil! Looks like I won’t miss you while in India afterall!)

After eating, everyone, as in almost everyone in the village who gathered in the forest, headed back home for more preparations of food for the next days. The thing with Indian festivals (in this way same as the Philippine fiesta scenes), especially in villages, is that relatives (I had no idea of up to what degree) come in full force–husband, wife, children, uncles, aunties, their wives/husbands, cousins and their wives/husbands. This also translates to many water containers to be filled, clothes to be washed and mouths to be fed. After the chores, a siesta (afternoon nap) is in order before beginning another set of household labor. So, we did the same thing. Only, after the siesta, we went walking around in the late afternoon to visit more Mausis and Uncles, and I guess for my benefit, to see what it is like living in a village.

Top: Villagers, young and old, get water from the well for all intents and purposes Below: Ladies in beautiful sarees and tin water jars. There’s also Rani, trying to keep up!
Once-a-year rain-fed rice farming is the main source of livelihood in Taloshi. Unlike in many Philippine areas, Charu says there’s always a 101% chance of a good season.

After jamun-picking, we went to Charu’s grandma’s house. It’s something like a farmhouse. It’s huge. Not hacienda-kind-of-huge but big enough to say it’s huge. I forgot to take a photo of the house. Sorry! Anyway, I felt like it’s also an open shrine or temple of some sort. While we were there, other people also came. I don’t know if they were also relatives or are just there to go to the “shrine” inside the house. We were too busy going picture-gaga in the porch and the garden for me to “investigate” further. HeheOur first stop is Charu’s Mausi’s house. However, they were headed for a Puja (a prayer ritual) by the time we got there. So, we headed for the next stop (after the kids raided the cashew tree)–jamun (duhat!) fruit picking. It was a challenging thing, trying to get jamun from the branches. Every fruit picked was considered a gem (or something important). Seryoso! It reminded me of duhat akyatan days when I was younger back in my hometown!

with Rani and Charu (the green trees are still fighting hard to survive the summer!)

After picture-taking moments (I think it’s the same the world over!), we headed out again. Charu noticed a woman inside the house doing something which I initially thought was pottery. Charu explained that the woman is grinding rice traditionally. She asked me if I wanted to take a photo. I asked her if she knows the woman. She said no. And I was like, so we’ll just barge in?! 😀 we didn’t just barged in–after asking her mom something (I supposed she was asking if she knew the owner of the house), she said something to the other woman inside, asking if we can take photos. I guess she said yes coz I was motioned to snap away. The thing was, the actual woman who was grinding the rice was never looking up–except after the other woman called her attention in a louder voice. That’s when I realized the woman with the grinder was blind. Maybe even kind of deaf. 😦

Traditional grinding of rice grain to become some sort of rice powder
I felt bad for her at first, especially since disability is a big problem and issue here in India. Some people even associate it with bad karma. But now, looking at her photo, I realised, she is probably better off than the other people the other volunteers are helping out. She is wearing green and gold bangles plus there’s a red mark on top of her forehead–clear signs that she is married. She can do this household chore so she probably is still “included” in the house and not totally seen as a liability. I hope my assumptions are correct!
After the house, we continued walking through the fields and the trees. Of course, photos are in order and this time, I got Rani to do poses! Rani is Prathamesh’s only sibling. She’s an 18-year-old interior design student (she passed her freshman year!) studying in the No. 1 uni for it in Mumbai. A self-confessed NBSB, she wants the first guy to be the last, through a love marriage that is arranged by their parents. (Are you confused? Me too. Don’t worry. You’ll understand what that means too. I did!) You’d think that a young woman her age, living in a cosmopolitan city in a somehow privileged life would only think about diet and boys and fashion. Yes, those I think are in the list of things she thinks of but really, she’s a whole lot more than that. We talked about politics, corruption, poverty, population, and the list goes on. She has depth, which is more than what I can say for some teeny-bopper, bubble gum-popper girls I know. (Rani, I deserve ice cream and chocolates for this! Hehe)
Rani, in a short-lived modeling stint!

The fruit looked like small grapes but tasted and felt like cherry. Not the red kind in the fruit salad but the one we also pick from trees (only it’s green-ish/red-ish and not purple-ish/black-ish). Charu shared that when she was younger, she usually stays in the village for 1 1/2 months and would roam around like the children did, with her brother Sagar and a cousin (forgot which one!), and return home with a shirt-turned-to-basket-full of this fruit! Ah, good ol’ days of childhood!While we were busy shooting, the elder women and younger children were busy looking for white flowers that were to be used for the non-veg (dried fish) dish the day after. I’ve never eaten flowers so it was an interesting thing for me! (Part 2 will include the photos for the food!) The boy children mostly went missing and weren’t back until we were done camwhoring. They were holding a big leaf that was turned into cone that’s being used as a container for a fruit which name I have forgotten.

Everyone wants a piece of it! (Sagar took this pic)

It was already almost 7pm when we started walking back to the ancestral house. The sun is yet to set at the time. We had another stop-over at Charu’s Mausi’s house. Some of the boys started to throw stuff at the mango tree, hoping that fruits will fall . A few pieces did. One green mango was diced for our taking, with red chili, salt, black pepper and other garam masala (hot spices) on the side. It tasted good! 🙂

Green mango with red chili powder, salt, black pepper, and garam masala (Admit it, you are salivating! wahahaha)

By the time we reached the ancestral house, the moon has risen and taken over the night. The boys, however, are not yet tired and decided to play downstairs while the grown-ups had their rest. They were playing either tag or hide and seek around the marble shrine of Ganesha. I just had to snap their photo before I went upstairs for a rest!

Boys of the next generation (Adi, Charu’s son, on the far right)
After a few minutes of respite, I was told that we are headed for the final activity of the night. I felt like in a stealth mode ala Operation Buddweiser again as we moved around like spies trying to escape, walking fast and quietly heading for the car!
STRONG! Looks and sort of tastes like red horse but there’s no ice! At least there was pulutan!
After a fun night of animated discussion (yes, I had fun though most of the conversation was in Marathi), yummy finger foods (ok, alcohol supply included), and my roadside-you-know-what, we headed back to the ancestral house. As if I was not full enough, we had to eat dinner before capping the day. So yeah, more discussions at the dining floor (yep, Indians eat on the floor most of the time) and more food of course!

Charu kept asking me, in many occasions during the day, whether I had fun or whether I was enjoying myself. Many times, I have told her that of course I did. I think she asked me again, before we slept. And for the nth time, I said yes. And, for the first time in quite a while, I slept feeling happy being exactly where I wanted to be. 🙂

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