Life was as good as it can get, a nice family, home with loving parents and food on the table three times a day. What more would a nine-year-old want? She loved her house and her life in the village. A rustic, underdeveloped village in northern India. The nearest town was around 50 miles from her village. In the name of infrastructure the village had around twenty to twenty five mud houses and around five to six concrete houses which belonged to the upper class of the village, the ruling class.
It was a small village with a population of a mere thousand. Everyone knew each other, at least the upper caste people did. She was from an upper caste family, a Brahman. Hers was a big family with six brothers, mother, father and she.
Her daily routine was pretty much the same every day, she would get up to the sounds of her brother’s bickering. She was ignored altogether by them, which was fine with her as that meant less nosiness in her life. After her ritualistic glass of milk and a chapatti, she would head out to explore her village. she has lived here since her birth but every day she would find something she had not seen before, this village was like a Pandora box for her.
Hers was not a green village, there were not many trees around. Even the houses in the common residential area did not have any backyard or front yard. You could just see houses one after the other. For her this was the area where she spent least of her times. To her, it felt like a concrete jungle and she would quickly cross the houses and move on to the area with mud houses.There were no trees here also, but the mud walls, simple structure and leafy roofs of the houses felt close to nature. If there was any new house being constructed, then she would just sit there and spend her day watching it.
Mud houses were constructed by the Villagers themselves and involved a very simple process of creating square wall structure using bamboo sheets, same sheets were used for the roof as well. The walls were then covered with a coating of mud and cow dung paste, created and applied by the women folks, The roof was covered with sheets made of the palm tree or banyan tree leaves. She was always in awe of the simplicity of these houses, each house had just two or three partitions from inside, one was the kitchen and two rooms. In those days there was no concept of bathroom and toilet inside the house, those activities were to be performed either by the farm tube well or in the single common toilet their Village had. Whenever there was a new mud house being built in the Village, it always had one punctual and faithful spectator, she would stand for hours watching the men and women, working so religiously on the house, it always amazed her to see how within a day a barren piece of land was converted into a home. The joy with which the women of the house would toil the soil and mix in cow dung, unaffected by its staunch smell, and knead it into a mud paste, the love with which they would apply it over the bamboo sheets, to transform a bare skeleton into a house.
She would come home and ask her mother why were they not living in mud houses,why cannot they construct their house in the same way with their own hands, the disparity of culture, the privilege of being upper caste, the economic advantage they had was something her nine-year-old brain was not able to process.
Her only connection with outside houses was the mud-plastered walls inside the house. Cow dung paste helped in keeping away pests and small insects, her mother had told her. Though her house was made of concrete and had cemented floors and walls and a terrace, the walls inside were still plastered on a daily basis with a mud and cow dung paste. When women of the Village would come to do that in her house, she would try to get her hands on that, only to get scolded by her mother! Every house in the village had the same exterior shiny, silky white colored walls and windows were a shade of blue. Inside, each of the house was plastered with mud and cow dung paste, it was their ingenious pest control.
If there was no new construction, She would just cross this residential area as well and reach the pond, the only pond in her village. Her mother had warned her and forbidden her to visit this area and that only had made her explore it more. She would sit by the side of the pool and watch the waters, Mostly it was never empty, either the cattle would be drinking water there or taking bath. She would sit on the hillock with a clear view of the pond and watch the farmers get their cattle’s there. Those white cows against the muddy water of her pond, The cattle would enter the water with such gush and such energy, it always made her want to join them. What amazed her was that though they were here to get clean, by the time they would come out they would be covered in more mud than they came in and still the cattle came out happy, not bothered about the dirtiness of the water, just happy to be beating the harsh sun with cool and relaxing water. She could spend hours watching the cattle play in water, trying to immerse them in water during summers and trying to stay away from it during water. She found it was easier to understand and feel their emotions compared to human.
It would take her a lot of determination to not go into the water herself, her mother had told her that the mud there was slimy and it would pull her down. She would have ignored her mother’s advice for once but even her friend Pooja had told her the story how a girl drowned in the water. It was a horrific and sad story, Pooja said, even before She was born a there was a girl named Parvati who was Pooja's friend. Parvati was a good girl and helped her father a lot in the farms. She had no brother so she only had to take the cattle for grazing and for their walks. It was one of the hot summer days when she had taken her cattle to the pond.It was hot that day and she wanted them to have water. She entered the water along with the cattle and suddenly she went down. No one was able to save her. Pooja said there is some devil from the pond, who pulled her in. She cried for help, kept waving her hand, though people tried they were not able to pull her out. The strength of devil was more than men in Village and he pulled her in. After few minutes her screaming stopped, Parvati was gone. Pooja had cried telling the story and after hearing that incident from her, she made sure to sit at a comfortable distance from the pond, so that even if the devil comes out, devil’s hand cannot reach her. But she keeps looking for Parvati whenever she is at the pond. She tries to call her, hoping one day she will be able to come out of the devil’s clutches.
After watching the free water show by the cows, she would start her walk towards her farm. Her father had a large farm, he would say “Till wherever your eyes go it’s yours” and she would feel a sense of pride. Her walk towards the farm was important and special for her, she never missed it for anything.
It was her time with her dad. He would place her on his shoulders and take her around the farms, watching the world from his shoulders was entirely different, it was powerful and more beautiful. He would walk from potato farm to corn fields giving advice and instructions to the workers. “This is winters and so you see potato and corn….” He would tell her.
“And in summers the farms would rest, right Bauji?”
He had laughed at her ignorance and then patiently explained the rotation of crops they do “We grow wheat during summers and sometimes canes. Don’t you remember eating canes from the farm last summer’s?”
“Oh yes, it was yummy…”
“We will get it again”
Her every interaction with her father was enriching for her, it was full of learning and fun. Unlike mom, he would not cringe when she climbed trees and jumped around in the open field. He would tell her about all the trees they had in their farm.
“ that huge tree with heart-shaped leaves you see, it’s Banyan tree. It is considered sacred “
“Oh Bauji, the tree where all the ladies go and fasten red thread, outside Ganesha temple, is that also Banyan tree?”
“Yes, that is Banyan tree, it gives good shade and has many medicinal uses also. Our village doctor takes the leaves and barks from this tree for treating various ailments.
She would listen intently to whatever her dad would tell her, these stories were the highlight of her day. This was her learning. He would let her use small spade and dig soil, last year he had let her plant a tree. She goes and watches it over daily and even waters it,but her dad doesn’t let her water it daily…
“No do not water it daily, give it only enough water to survive, then only the roots will grow. If you pour water daily on its roots, it’s like spoon feeding and they will not learn to grow”
How can we spoon feed a tree? Does the tree has its mom? I do not see? I planted only one tree.
He would smile at her silly questions, but would patiently answer each and every one of them.
Spoon feeding is a metaphor I have used, beta, it means helping the other to an extent where they do not have the freedom or need to develop on their own and to her perplexed face he further added,
Think of it this way “Suppose your mom always feeds you with her hand,always all the meals. You never had to even lift a finger for food. Would you learn to eat by your hand.. would you want to? Won’t you just keep waiting for your mom to feed you even when you are hungry instead of eating on your own.”
“Yes that would be nice, no Bauji”
No beta, in that case you will not grow to be independent. You will not learn and worse in case your mom is not around, you might be too lazy to even eat and fall sick.
same is the situation with the tree, if You keep watering it daily, and at its roots, it will have no need to expand its roots and if a tree has weak roots, it would fall from even a sight gust of wind, as it is not strong enough.
Hmm was all she could reply. Her father’s thinking and words always made her think. She liked it.
They would walk around the farm, passing each and every tree. He would even let her pick the blackberries which fall down and they both would eat it sitting under the same tree.
She liked summer’s more though as it was Mangoes which they would eat and though it would leave her all sticky and face covered in yellow mush, it was totally her favorite. Her time spent here was the best part of her day, amidst nature with her father on her side, this was the only time she got with her dad. He was a hard-working man and would leave for farm before she got up and would come back late in evening tired and would retire directly to bed. They never had any meals together. At her house, everyone ate at their own time, her mother being the last.
She would stay at the farm for hours and only when her father would scold her or start getting angry at her would she start on her way back to the house reluctantly,dragging her feet in the mud creating marks while she walked.
And if some lucky stone came into her way it would be the game of chase and throw for her for the rest of her journey. She would reach home all soaked in mud and hands black or green depending on which lucky object lured her attention that day. Another constant in her life was the scolding she would get from her mother daily,when she reached home but as constant her mother’s scoldings were, similar was her resolve to ignore them.
“I don’t know what you will do after marriage?”
“Is this how a girl from respected household behaves?”
“You are going to bring bad name to the whole family”
“I do not know, how will we get a bridegroom for you? No one will be ready to marry you..”
“You are almost ten, behave like one. You are not a two year old. coming home soaked in mud and mulch. God help me with this girl”
And so on. She would not understand what marriage is or what does it have to do anything with her going to the farm but she would never give it much thought and while her mother would be applauding her with her regular adjectives, she would wash her hands and feet and wait for her to finish.
She had noticed if she was silent the scoldings would get over sooner, and once her mother was calmer and all her anger subsided after the outburst, she would bring over her lunch and feed her herself. Warm, thick chapattis with lots of home-churned butter and a bowl of curd.
Her mother would churn butter from milk every morning. she would watch how her mother would pull the ropes which would turn the pedals inside the pot filled with milk and after hours of this vigorous churning exercise, she would scoop out butter by her hand and keep it in another mud bowl so that it stays cold. Her mother would end up tired after this and she would always wonder why any of her brothers would not help the mother, though they were stronger. They were always looking for ways to exercise and would pick up large stones to build muscles. But none of them came forward for churning butter.
After her hunger fully satiated, if she was lucky she would be able to sneak out again avoiding her mother’s eyes. On not so lucky days when her mother stopped her she was required to take a bath and then sit and read. Oh how she hated reading. “Who does that? What help will it do?” she would think
She would try to reason with her mom too on that
Why do I need to read ma
Bauji does not read, he works. I can work too ma. I like working on farm
I do not like reading.
she blabbered continuously till a sharp gaze from her mother made her open her brother’s old book, though she opened the book to avoid another one of mom’s wrath, she hardly read, she had her own mechanism of coping with that too.
Every time she would open her book, her mind would take her into the imaginative worlds of the pictures. If it was an apple she saw on the page, she would drift to a trip to the apple orchard, where she would scent and taste the tastiest and freshest of the apples, her mouth would water thinking and feeling the taste of apples. She would dream of running wildly among the apple trees, picking up fallen apples, climbing up trees to pluck some more. Life was such a bliss in that orchard.
And if she was required to memorize her numbers, her mind would wander in entirely different direction. She will first try to seek faces in those letters, sometimes it was a snake she saw in five, or it was jalebi her favorite sweet in eight. She could pass hours looking at the same page making her mother suspicious at times. “No Ma, I am paying attention , it’s hard”
“You will not understand it’s tough.” She would say and that would shut her mother up. It was easy to fool Mother as she herself never got any chance to study, she could just barely write her name and read her pooja books but she had no clue about anything else. Her mother would read her the stories of Ram and Krishna daily.
“My mother read them to me and so I know” she would say
“But I was married off before I learned anything else, I never got any books like you. Do not waste the opportunity” her mother would say.
She could notice resentment and a sense of regret in her mother’s voice. This was the only time she would feel like reading properly so that she can teach her mother how to read.
After sitting with the books for some time which felt like an eternity to her and drinking a tall glass of milk her mother would bring to her, she would sneak out this time with the permission of her mother to meet her friends.
All the girls of the village were her friends and they would all gather in front of her house every evening. From here they would embark on a walk to the nearby village, away from the farms, it was some sort of treasure hunt for them.
Walking through the village lanes and crossing the houses and trees they would pick raw mangoes as they made their way. Sometimes it would be gooseberries lying on the ground shaken down by the storm previous night. Each of the girls would bring something from their homes too like raw tamarind, salt, and chili powder and some would get limes and it would be a party for them every evening. Talking endlessly, walking as if they all had wheels in their legs, eating and singing on the way, they sure had a lot of fun.
Sometimes they would forsake the tour for a game of five stones, which they would play in her front veranda and those days they were treated with biscuit and tea by her mother. These were the rare times she was allowed tea. Though she and other girls would have liked to play the games boys played like cricket and Ball, they were never allowed sometimes stopped by their mothers and in case they managed to reach the site ,ridiculed and scared away by the boys..
“Girls don’t run it’s not proper” her mother would explain whenever she protested
“But why is Bhaiya going?” She would ask over her cries
“He is a boy. they need to play to be strong. Girls play with dolls… ”
“Come I will show you how to stitch a dress for your doll”and that would cheer her up and her crying would stop immediately.
They would all eat an early dinner which she would help her mom with it was her least favorite part of the day, helping with cooking. No amount of pleading would work with her mother at this time.
“You need to learn cooking, dancing around trees won’t get you a groom.”
“But I do not want a groom….”
“You need one whether you want or not and it’s time you start preparing for one.” And that would be the end of discussion.
Her tasks for the day involved cutting vegetables and that too precisely, her mother would monitor the way she is cutting and she never understood why. How does it matter what size it’s been cut, it will all be cooked and be mushy.size won’t matter she would think. So many times she got hit just because every potato cut was not the same 1-inch cube. In frustration, she would walk out of the kitchen throwing the potatoes down, only to be scolded more. She hated the kitchen and anything to do with it.
“I will never cook…” she would say and run from the kitchen
Her mother’s word ‘You will need to.. wait till you get married’ following her close behind.
After dinner just before bedtime her mother would come with a glass of milk and slight apology for hitting, but it would follow with another lecture of how she only wanted her happiness and she is now a grown up and should learn to cook, to sew, to mend the house and just to shut her up she would say “Okay mom” and go back to sleep thinking about a brand new day of adventure, it won’t take her much time to fall asleep. Plotting the pranks she would play with her friends she would drift into the dream world within few minutes.