The people in the village are always curious about me. The neighbours frequently visit trying to figure out the guy who doesn’t work for a living. When the same questions are put by the nosy arrogant middle class living in the frigid cities, I usually lose patience. But here, I am embarrassed. Mani, from next door, leaves the house at 3 in the morning to catch the train to work. The subsequent train that stops at the tiny village station is too late for him. If he wants to travel cheap using the season rail pass, he has no other option. Otherwise he has to take a room in the city paying exorbitant rent. He has 2 daughters to raise and his wife is a stay at home mum. He gets a pittance at work and returns at 7 in the evening. Raising daughters in India, that is another story, but in a nutshell he needs to start saving for the inevitable double dowry.
He came yesterday evening and insisted I eat from his house instead of trotting off to the nearest hotel.‘I don’t understand why are you so embarrassed about this. If I was staying in Trivandrum near your place, would you let me eat from anywhere else but your home?’I think, probably not. For all my pretensions, I think I still have the hard brutality of the city dweller inside me. Even unconditional kindness and warmth offered takes time getting used to. I reluctantly agree on breakfast the next day. Enough to say people here are embarrassed by my embarrassment for inconveniencing them.
The morning is always the most beautiful and exciting part of the day. This time of the year it’s a bit chilly and the mist does magic with the sunrise over the kayal. I take the thotti (an aluminum pail with a rope attached) and head for the well. It’s just about 10 feet to the water surface and I send the pail crashing down. Juggling the rope like a music conductor I manage to fill the thotti to the brim (this is pure art!). After filling a couple of buckets its time for the well bath. A towel tied around my waist I splash the cool water from the well over my body with the grand finale being emptying the whole bucket over my head. The most refreshing bath ever! Nobody’s interested in the noisy performance except the odd kingfisher or crow perched on the mango tree.
I wear one of the most comfortable garbs in India for a man, the mundu. It’s a cross between a small bed sheet and skirt, wrapped and tied around the waist allowing free circulation of air! Perfecto for the tropical climate. Nobody wears a shirt here unlike the cities, especially at home. My chest exults in the new found freedom and I’m in the mood for contemplative relaxation.
As the sun makes his way up the sky,I slowly head to Mani’s house with a sturdy stick in hand. The house dog is notorious in these parts for sinking his teeth into unsuspecting visitors. The red tiled house is dark with little ventilation and furniture. I am in good time. His wife Mili has just made a steaming puttu ( steamed rice cake) .
I mash it along with banana, sugar and ghee. Mili talks about her small ‘business’ in which she lends money to other housewives like her for a small interest. The milk is from the cow next door, she says. Will I have tea? I decline the offer and laugh seeing the incredulous look on Mili’s face when told I don’t do tea or coffee. Among other things she tells me about the time she saw the temple elephant stamping a man to death during the last festival.
Her eldest daughter, the shy one, is flitting about doing chores before she heads to school. She’s excited to be going on a trip today to watch a nearby exhibition. Her skin is gleaming with the mustard oil she has applied before taking bath. There is no water connection in the house, so she has to draw water from the well. Still in school, she’s already a beauty. I smile as I envision her breaking many hearts in the future. But she’s hardly aware of her exquisiteness as she walks around almost half naked . A most beautiful thing to see innocence still unharmed in a girl flowering into a woman ! I go back to watching the hypnotising tender ripples on the kayal.