Friday, May 29, 2009

When the light of the moon goes off

Pitch darkness is something you can never experience on city roads. Even if there is a total power failure, even if it’s the dead of night, you always have the headlights of a passing car or motorcyclist.

But imagine what it is like to be on a deserted village lane at night when the power fails. The lights in all the house windows go off, the street lights go dark. It’s the rainy season and thick clouds obscure the sky. There is not a star to light the way, not a sliver of moon.

I was on my bicycle one time when this happened. It wasn’t even late, but because of the rains no one was around.

Suddenly I found myself pitched into utter darkness. This is the kind of total blackness in which you don’t see even the vague shape of objects around you. Everywhere is a thick, impenetrable blackness.

To make it worse, there was no sound on that deserted lane, except for an occasional rumble of thunder overhead. Rain threatened.

I got off my cycle and thought I would walk up the slope with it. The lane curved upwards and to the right. This much I knew. But what if I misjudged the road and fell down into the field on the left of me? Best to wait, I thought. But what if it started raining heavily? A few drops had already started falling. What if some tree had fallen (they do this all the time in the monsoons) and the electricity didn’t return for hours? I began to ring my cycle bell to register my presence on that dark road just in case some scooterist came tearing down the slope and knocked me down.

Living in a village you get used to natural light, to the light of the moon and stars. If the electricity fails on a night when you are wandering about in the open, it’s not dark at all. Everything is illuminated by a silvery light, and the effect is magical.

But not in the rainy season when there is no natural light. In the monsoons, sensible villagers always carry a torch.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Car pooling with villagers

When you drive your car in the city, the faces you pass tend to be just an anonymous blur.

Not so in a village. Whenever I drive past people here I feel I must – out of courtesy – stop to offer a familiar face a lift, particularly if that someone is waiting for a bus. This wouldn’t be a problem if villagers weren’t so kindhearted and unselfish. The familiar face will never get into my car until she has generously invited every other familiar face waiting by the road to get in with her. Before I know what’s happening, half a dozen smiling people are crowding into my little Santro – along with shopping bags, muddy footwear, wet umbrellas, and occasionally a screaming baby or heavy sack of rice. Reduced to being little more than the village bus driver, I drive along, stopping every now and then to drop off one of my passengers, waiting patiently till the unfamiliar face gets out lugging her baby or bag. Car pooling by force, I call it.

Worst of all is when Babuli (aka the village idiot) spots my car approaching. Instantly he will position himself by the side of the road and with a sheepish grin wave for me to stop. I think of his mud-encrusted bare feet and wish my car was a bullock cart. To stop or not to stop becomes a huge moral dilemma. Should I hurt his feelings by not stopping or should I care only about keeping my car seats free of the mud that is bound to be stuck to the seats of his ragged shorts? Sometimes I just wave back innocently, as if all he is doing is waving to me in a friendly way. Sometimes my kind nature (I must definitely be growing into a villager) triumphs. And then Babuli, mud and all, gets in and peremptorily directs me to drive him to wherever it is he wants to go. Meekly I comply.

Sometimes I think I should get myself a scooter. Or better still, a nice big bus.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sunshine and water

It’s so hot you’d think everything under the baking sun would be wilting and dying.

Yet, summer is the season in which many trees and plants begin to sprout fresh green leaves. In astonishment, and some envy, I watch them flourishing in my little garden. The leaves are so tender and sweet. What is their secret?

All they need is water and the hot sun, and they're happy.

Life should be so simple.

Yet sometimes I do believe it is.

When I moved out of the city, one of the things I missed most was eating whole-wheat bread. So I learnt to bake my own, as I learnt to do many other things living in a village. And I realised that like the plants bread needs very little: heat and water, and of course some flour and a little fresh yeast. Why then does a loaf of whole-wheat bread cost so much in the city? Why do plants?

It’s hot in the village. But at least there is all this fresh green in the garden to soothe the eyes.

I never had plants when I lived in the city. There was only the heat.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Taking a break

I don't have much time to blog these days.
So you won't be seeing posts very often - at least not till the end of the month.
If you've been reading this blog, please don't give up on me.
I'll be back with more on life in the village.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Hot sands

How we Indians loathe the sun and the heat.

And how strange it is that foreigners just never seem to get enough of it.

Out there on the beach right now the sun worshippers are probably lying on towels and slowly roasting their bodies, or sitting under beach umbrellas, or frolicking in the water with only dark glasses to keep them cool.

Crazy though they seem, it’s probably cooler on the beach with the sea breeze blowing. And definitely – definitely, I think – cooler in the water. The sun is never so hot when you’re in the sea.

But imagine making the effort to go out into the sun, to brave the terrible white glare till you reach the beach, to cross the burning hot sands until at last you reach the sea.

Only the flowers seem to flourish, and the hotter it is the more brilliantly they blaze.

Sun worshipping is not for Indians. Surya namaskar is as far as we’ll go.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Who killed the whale?

The sea throws up strange things sometimes.

This time it was a dead whale that the fishermen towed in to Palolem beach.

The creature was a good twenty to thirty feet long, a mottled pale grey like the conjoined shells you see sometimes on the beach.

It must have been dead for sometime because the body was already decomposing. You couldn’t really make head or tail of it. What seemed to be the head had almost completely collapsed, and only one side of the cavernous mouth was visible. There were no eyes left.

Considering it had been lying in the hot sun all day, it wasn’t really smelling so bad. But it was an unpleasant odour nevertheless, though strangely not fishy. Nor did it smell like the corpse of, say, a dead rat. Must be all the salt in the sea.

Half the village turned up to see the poor whale. And everyone, including the holidaymakers, went on a photographing spree. Macabre the way people will photograph anything, even a decomposing whale.

In other parts of the world, from what I’ve read, dead whales make big news. Environmentalists and Save the Whale activists usually turn up to a point finger and demand whodunit. An autopsy of sorts is also carried out to find out how the whale died.

Here, there didn’t seem to be any of that. The fishermen believe a ship accidentally killed the whale.

The municipality was involved, and I spotted some garbage disposal guys with yards of nylon rope. They were planning to drag the dead whale up the beach beyond the high tide point and there they were going to bury it. R. I . P.