Saturday, July 25, 2009
We're getting nowhere with the VISA thing Julie has decided bag it, buy a ticket back and take care of it in the USA... too much hassle. Our last options dwindle to a spark of hope, and when the guy says first go to the US Embassy and tell them to write a letter stating such and so... we're pretty sure we're sunk. We go to the embassy and they have just closed American Citizen Services for the day, yup, 9-1 is all they are working for us... wonder what our tax dollars are doing the rest of the day... we go back the next morning to be told, nope, we don't do letters, no way, no how. That's it, we're going home together tomorrow night. So now, let's visit Kuldeeps village and tomorrow we'll pack and shop a little if time permits.
I summarize my conversation with the guy on the train and as Kuldeeps face darkens, am quick to say, my feeling is that you are a trustworthy person and I don't think you woud kidnap us or anything, would you? No, no, why do something like that, for what, for money? No, not worth money chance of trouble, worry about get caught, not right to do... you have nothing to worry about, I am not that kind of person. And he calls his wife Radkhi to let her know we're coming for dinner and should we pick up some things on the way.
It takes an hour and a half to get out to Kharumpar village, it's northeast of town out past Gaziabad, and traffic is plugged, cycles get by on the side of the road, by going around, through the shop lots, whatever.. until it is all stopped it is so narrow, 4 "lanes" divided highway, Kuldeep goes onto the other side of the road, 2 lanes of traffic coming at us, trucks, buses, many cars going fast, you cannot believe this, he's driving down the wrong side of the road at speed to get around the jam, hand on the horn, miraculously, buses, trucks, cars, all swerve at the last second around him and keep going... this is too good to be true, and sure enough, there's a Johnny (polic officer) standing on the side of the road with a big bamboo stick (that's how they keep order her, and it works pretty good)... he points the stick at us and motions "ok you've had your fun, now turn around and go back where you started from"... which isn't easy either as about 15 other cars have followed us and are jammed behind us in that lane, and the regular traffic is all crammed into the other lane and shoulder... finally we get turned around and get back to the press again. Eventually we pull off onto a side lane, which is a "short cut to my village" and it's a bumpy mostly paved farm lane road, with the usual pedestrians, cycles, bicycles, cows, dogs, and a few cars sharing. Soon we're surrounded by green fields of rice, millet, and sugar cane, people are out working their plots or diverting water from the canal to them, no monsoon rains yet, just a little bit, and the crops are suffering, yield will be small and the rice grains will be smaller too, Kuldeep says. In a few minutes we are far from the road and crowds and people, animals, and green space is on all sides. Kuldeep pulls over at a vegetable stall at the crossing before the village entry, and Julie goes with him to pick up some 3 or 4bags of things. That's how they do it here, buy fresh just about each day. I stay in the car, I'm tired, sleepy from the heat and hassle of the train station and rushing around town, and watch some boys play a game where one tosses a piece of brick, then the next one, from where he's standing, throws a piece of brick at it. If he misses, the next one tosses a piece at his brick and so on, until someone hits the others brick, then they start over.
The village has a 7 or 8 ft wide concrete lane winding through, with open concrete drains of appx 6" on either side. Most homes have at least one cow or goat, for milk, very important for the kids nutrition. There are dogs, kids, and people visible everywhere. We pull up to Kuldeeps family home, which has a car-port type of space entry, where his father Beetam is resting on a cloth woven pallet. He comes to greet us and offers me his pallet, sit is the sign language. He's dressed in a dhoti, cotton cloth wrapped around his middle and upper legs, nothing more, it's hot at 3:30. For the next few minutes we are being introduced to the family members, some of whom speak english, and walked through parts of the home to a stairway upstairs, where we are offered cool bottled water (they get theirs from a pump and we can't drink it) and try to converse. It's awkward after the 2 college age english speaking girls (Rajni and Jyoti) and one boy (awaiting admission test results) exchange with Julie about their courses and what will she do, where stay, etc. I pull out my picture book and offer it to the closest person, narrating pic by pic as they flip through. It takes a few times through for everyone to see them, and by the 3rd time Kuldeeps neice Rajni is narrating in very good english. She's a smart one, just completed her MS in IT from Delhi U 2 days ago she has just come back to the village. She is searching for a job but its very tough for a "fresher" right now people are taking minimum 10% pay cuts to keep their jobs and new hires are getting 50% of the regular rate, with so many experienced people available at 50% a fresher has not much chance. minimum 300-600 applicants per position it is very competitive.
We're sitting in the 2nd fl bedroom where Kuldeeps family sleeps, there's a small room off to the side with a window overlooking the village, and a toilet room, backing to the street. There are 3 pallet style beds in the room, and also a sofa, a ceiling fan, and a bookcase with family pictures and a few religious statues and paintings on them. Outside the room is a maybe 15' square terrace, where dinner will be eaten and the family will hang out as the day cools and a breeze comes up. It's airy and neat and the windows are full open, no screens. Radkhi makes a few trips up the stairs with plates for me and Julie, and platters with Pekora (fresh veggies fried in a light spicy chick-pea flour) and Parantha, round tasty bread, hot and tasty, couldn't be fresher, delicious. We are encouraged to eat and eat, the high piled platter gradually flattens, and we get a little help, though most everyone else has had lunch a short time ago (they eat lunch about 2, dinner about 8). We thank Radkhi and Kuldeep asks if we want to walk around the village and see what its like. Sure!
We are a great curiousity, as we have read, people around here do not see many white people up close, and the kids especially are intrigued. It takes a few minutes to get out of the driveway kuldeeps daughter Radhka shows us her bicycle with training wheels, and accidently rides over julies foot, bloodying her toe, and I have to get photos of the other kids on the tractor, and the kids next door, and their goats, within minutes we have an entourage of 15 or 20 following. Almost everyone in the village is out tending to the cows, goats, or some chore, most everyone is cheerful and smiles at us and returns our awkward greetings (almost no one knows english, but the little kids, some of whom are proud to step forward and say HELLO, or HI my name is).. and we are shaking hands and greeting everyone with a nod, a wink, a smile, as we walk. Some of the children are too shy or afraid to come close, they keep a careful distance. Once in a while we act like we're going to reach out and grab their hand, and they run away, giggling, with all the other kids and grownups around laughing and encouraging them to take the plunge.
We come to a crowd of men, a few dhoti clad elders mixed in, sitting on pallets and woven cane chairs around a water pipe with a 6 foot stem. One of the elders speaks a little english and he asks me a few questions, they nod appreciatively to hear I work at a community planning firm, but I don't think even the one or two that spoke english understands what we do. He asks Julie a few questions, and offers us water, which we explain we can't drink, or tea, which it's way to hot for. Milk? Somewhere they got the idea Julie nodded, and a fellow runs off, a few minutes later we are each handed a large metal tumbler, filled to the top with steaming warm milk, yellow stuff floating on the top and all... Ohhhh, thanks!30-40 people looking on proudly...... I do my best, and get to the bottom OK. Thankfully a bunch of sugar had been added.... Julie took a little longer... but she got almost to the bottom of the cup. Her bloody toe is covered with flies by now, they are all over the place. I pass around my photo album and everyone likes it... you very lucky man, very happy family, very happy life... oh believe me, brother, I know it, I am so lucky!
Kuldeep takes a seat on the pallet and takes a long draw on the water pipe, coughs, exhales, takes another, and I am motioned to partake. You put your hand over the end so not to touch with your mouth and it takes some suction to get the thing gurgling and get a lungful, but I have two successful puffs thanks to bike commuter lungs and do not embarrass myself by coughing or tearing up. Julie declines. I ask if it's OK to get a photo and 3 or 4 tries later we think we have everyone captured and we promise yes we will get a print to Kuldeep, a big one, and we say our goodbyes. Winding through the street, see a proud family in the yard where a new cow has been born, in the last hour, Kuldeep says, yes OK to take a picture, and we wave congratulations to the husband and wife watching over the newborn. We stop to snap a few pics of the monkeys, cute little baby, then come to another group of village elders. I am introduced to the chairman of the village, who speaks a little english. I'm offered a seat, and Julie is being encouraged to go with the kids, they want to take her home and show her to their parents. After a couple awkward minutes because no one speaks much english... I ask if it's OK to snap a photo, of course, please send a print to Kuldeep they say in Hindi.
Coming to the end of the village I look back Julie has wall to wall kids she's trying to coax a shy one to shake hands, we head out of town, where there is a noisy crowd of boys, 10s to teens, moving and jumping around "snake!" they are shouting and motioning for us to go over, I lead the way with my camera at the ready.... right up on the the mound of dry(thankfully) cow dung they are standing on, and try to keep my balance on the sidehill while my sandal is getting full of dry manure, the other one is sliding, and I'm trying to find the green cobra slinking through the tall green grass... I get a pic and get out of there, stopping to shake out both my sandals. We get to the end of pavement and are in the fields, the sun is going down so people are returning to work, a young girl in a bright orange and yellow sari, maybe 15, takes her basket nearby and starts cutting weeds from among the millet plants with her small hand scythe. She'll carry it home to feed to her goat of cow. Most family's have a plot they work, the ones that don't barter or buy from the ones that have a surplus. Kuldeeps family no longer has a plot, they used to. He points to a village in the distance, that's where I was born and lived til age five, then we moved to this village, I learned to swim in that canal, see that yellow 2 story building that's the school, my mom was a mathmatics teacher there... the sun is setting, and we head back, catch up to Julie and the kids are trickling away now as dusk approaches it's time to be home, with family, before dark.
Back at Kuldeeps we enter the courtyard and are offered a couple plastic chairs, a fan and battery are moved near, the clips attached, and the fan blows directly on me and Julie. The college girls mother Grita is introduced, and their aunt, then Kuldeeps grandmother Gwati comes out from her quarters across the courtyard away from the street. She's 90, slim, alert, in a pink and brown sari, rings on her toes, bracelets, smiling. She says she has a little arthitis in her fingers and toes, and flexes them for us... smiling. Looking pretty good for 90. She asks about us, what do we think of India, what do we like most... what is Julie doing, community service very good, the grandneices tell us she used to teach mostly underprivileged kids and especially women. We're called to dinner upstairs by Radkhi and say goodbye. Each part of the family has their separate rooms, with space between them and the next group. Each has privacy, but also share the common space, well, & kitchen.
We are back upstairs on the terrace at sunset, Radhki is sweating, making numerous trips up the stairs carrying everything to set up for dinner, I carry up a couple handfuls on my trip, and others help out. We are seated, the fan and battery are brought up and put to blow on us, and we eat again! Dal, mixed vegetables, rice from the field, excellent roti or parantha, pickle, and for desert fresh ripe papaya, which is much sweeter than what we get. There are 4 or 5 varieties here, some are better for pickle others to eat. Dinner is great, the kids at the pallet nearby come back for more rice, more papaya, they are 3 sharing off one plate, getting along so nicely, even when down to the last piece of papaya the 10 yrs old daughter carefully cuts it with a spoon so all 3 get an equal part. I thank Radhki for the wonderful 2 meals... and comment about how hard she works. She smiles and nods as it's translated to her. "India wife" says Jyoti, they take great pride in how hard they work. She tells how her sister Jyoti loves fresh butter and Grita mother makes it for her every morning and she eats it all! Every morning? asks Julie, yes, she says, it ONLY takes about 20 minutes work to whip it up from the curd. Wow, they really do work hard.
Soon enough darkness is falling, the dishes are cleared, and we are looking over the terrace wall to see many other families going up on the roof to enjoy the cooling of the day. There are a number of pallets on rooftops as well... yes, many people sleep outside on their roofs because it's cooler, he says. We say our goodbyes and exchange email addresses and promise to keep in touch and we are back in the dark on the road. It takes nearly 2 hours to get back the traffic jam is terrible... an interesting thing we see at the toll booth where there is no lane it's 8 lanes of jam going past the 2 booths and if you don't drive by the booth you, or someone in your car or cycle has to get off and go to the booth to pay and get the receipt... seems like with these thousands of cars there's no way they could tell who did or didn't pay, right? In a few minutes, here come a gang of about 5 guys, carrying big sticks.... going car to car to check receipts! They come right to Kuldeeps window and he puts up his receipt... the guy says no roll down the window give it to me Kuldeep says no, I paid, here's the receipt, and he shifts into gear and moves with the crush again... yes, that's how they make sure people pay, he says, 10 rupees, or stick, he laughs.... I think the 10 rupees is OK for that! We're back to the room by midnight, and we're packing, tomorrow is getaway day!