Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The god of small thefts

Listening to villagers talk, one would think thieving simply doesn't happen here.

'Nah, nah,' my neighbour Nirmala says, shaking her head virtuously. There's never been a robbery in our neighbourhood ever, she tells me.

Not robbery according to the village moral code, maybe. But I can think of three things that villagers steal all the time, and which they don't even regard as stealing.

One is mud. People here are mad about mud. Truly. When I wanted to get rid of some mud that was piled up uselessly, my neighbours were scandalised. 'No, no,' they exclaimed. 'You never give away mud.'

Mud is precious. No sooner has someone dug out the mud in his plot to lay a foundation for a new house than it's half gone. Come evening and everyone in the vicinity will be hurrying to the mound, carrying shovels and plastic basins. Like ants they'll scurry back and forth, taking as much as they're able to carry on their heads. An old woman I know is the biggest mud thief of all. Not only is she old, she limps. Yet not even her traditional nine-yard sari will get in the way of her pilfering.

What do people do with all the mud they steal? I've seen the old woman heap it lovingly round the base of her coconut palms. But she owns a large coconut grove. What the others do is one of the eternal mysteries. Maybe they hoard it for an early grave. Maybe they sift through it looking for gold. Who knows?

Less baffling is the way they guiltlessly steal flowers. Here they are compelled by both vanity and piety. No self-respecting village woman will be seen without flowers in her hair. And if her bushes have run out, she simply plucks flowers that don't belong to her. Everyone does it. Except me, of course. I hate to see flowers disappear from my little garden. 'But it's for god,' the pilferer will say. 'To do puja.' Villagers are puzzled by why I allow the fragrant zai flowers to bloom and die uselessly on the bush when they could pluck them and stick them into their hair.

Worst of all is the fruit thieving. Come the cashew season and the whole village goes crazy. Cashew trees have a habit of sprawling all over the place. So your tree is usually everywhere but on your plot. Genuine owners will be frantically gathering the fruit, while everybody else will be frantic to get at it before the owners do. Joining the mad melee are the monkeys who leap from tree to tree and roof to roof. Not I know why the monkey god is not worshipped here. He's competition when it comes to stealing flowers and fruits. Or maybe he just resembles them too much to be treated as a god.

1 comment:

wishful thinking said...