After a big meal the night before, I sleep incredibly well. I close my eyes, feel no sense of time passing until a sound makes its way in to my dream. It’s not a moo, exactly, there’s something more to it. When I come up out of my sleep at 6:30AM, I finally realize what it is. Today my alarm clock is a buffalo ready for her breakfast. I make my way downstairs to see my alarm a little closer.
As I’m walking, Jerry’s grandfather, is waking up too. He tells me to follow him and around the corner is a chulha, a small clay stove with a warm fire going. Another buffalo is behind it. I sit in one chair, Jerry’s grandfather and uncle join me in other chairs. We are all wrapped in blankets against the cool morning air and enjoying the fire.
On the fire is a pot of water warming for Rajneesh who is getting ready to go to school as he’ll need a bath before he goes. As we sit and chat, we take turns pushing the wood a little further in to the fire as it burns to keep the heat coming.
Sometimes some people come with metal containers – one or two litres in size. When they come, one person will get up, go over to a large container of fresh milk nearby and measure out milk into his container. The person will then pay and leave.
Some of the women, Jerry’s mom and aunts stop by to talk for a bit but their day has already begun. The milking is finished so now comes feeding the cows and collecting their dung which they call gobar. This is dried and can be used for fuel, or spread by hand in the fields as fertilizer.
Rajneesh’s school bus arrives and he runs off to school, Jerry’s uncle heads off to do some work and soon Jerry comes by to see if I want to go for a morning walk. Absolutely! I head off in to the fields with him, taking my blanket with me.
Everyone who is outside at this hour is wearing their blanket. I am surprised at how warm it acutally is.
As we walk, Jerry occasionally films for a Youtube video he will make of my time in the village. It is great having a friend who makes takes such good videos and photos. He tells me about his childhood. His school is nearby to where we walked and the field everyone played in is still there and in use.
We end our walk near a house. Another one of Jerry’s uncles walks out of the house along with a large, friendly German Shepherd. He introduces himself and we talk about growing food. I’m amazed at how much grows here and they’re shocked to hear how much of our food comes from the other side of the country or even the world.
Jerry gets up, walks out in to the field and pulls up a plant with a big white root, washes it off, takes a knife and cuts the ends off and then slices it in to long sticks.
This is moolie – back home we call it daikon radish. Jerry takes a bit of salt and puts it on each of the sticks. I take a bite of one and it’s like nothing I’ve eaten before. It is so simple and so fresh. I say “Achchha – suraj aur pani ka swad hai.” Great! the taste of sun and water. And it’s no exaggeration. This is one of the best things I have tasted on this trip and there are only two ingredients: radish and salt. I eat almost an entire plate.
We walk back to the house. On the way back I notice solar panels in one of the fields. I’m really excited to see that and the combination of traditional and modern. There are clearly so many traditions here that are working extremely well. Others may be able to be improved with modern methods. And so people are mixing the modern and old. People in the fields have mobile phones and can be easily reached, there is electricity and running water. A recent government initiative provided funding for many homes here, including the one I am in, to install rain collection systems and underground tanks. In the rainy season the water is collected and can last months or longer.
It’s warmed quite a lot and I no longer need a blanket or even my sweatshirt. The sun feels so good. I go back up to my rooftop space and soon Jerry brings me some food.
Today there is mixed vegetable, lots of fresh roti, chaas (buttermilk), fresh tomato and cucumber, and a delicious garlicky red-chilli paste. It is heavenly.
I go downstairs and we go to Jerry’s uncle’s house next door. There, his aunt asks me many questions about Canada – what do people dress like? Is the ground sandy like here? What foods grow there? Do you have trees like ours? I describe “ped ki chashni” (tree syrup) to her. “First you make a hole in a maple tree and collect the sap inside, and boil it down and make a chashni (syrup). They are interested in the weather and what people do for work and how do we manage in the cold. And I learn about when mustard grows, and what ker berries look like and how dust storms come roaring through and you have to get inside and close everything up or sand will get everywhere. One of the big surprises for people here is our food system. Yes, things grow in our area, I say. But mostly people get their food from 5000 or more kilometres away. And so, it isn’t always fresh or tasty like it is here. I think it must sound really strange in a place where almost everything eaten from the onions to the beans to the wheat to the milk and yogurt all come from effectively within sight of the house.
Back at the house I talk to Jerry’s grandmother a bit more. She laughs that she can barely understand me because mostly she speaks Marwari but Jerry translates what I miss. She tells me to tell Jerry to work hard and get a good job working for the government. Jerry encourages her to come over for a photograph and we pose together, her, me and Jerry’s brother and sister.
And now it’s time to learn even more about daily life here. First we go to see one of the cows being milked:
While I watch, Jerry tells me that this cow is particularly naughty. Most cows can be milked by one person, but not this one. This one requires some help. And he points out that there on the other side of the cow is Jerry’s granning with a stick and a stern look. She doesn’t need to hit the cow, just to give it a look like she means business – which she does well.
Then Jerry’s mom and younger sister take me to the field. We stop by and fill buckets with little white pellets: Urea to add nitrogen to the fields. Then we take our buckets and fling the pellets all over the grass that is being grown for the cows. Jerry and his mom offer tons of encouragement. I can see how this would be hard work, but also with friends, it is easier.
When we finish, Jerry says it’s time to go. I’m not sure where we’re going but if there’s one thing this trip has taught me, that is to just say “Yes”. I don’t need to know specifically what’s coming next. I know that Jerry has a good plan.
We get on his motorcycle and ride through the villages. We stop at a small store and pick up two coconuts and a cold Thums-Up – a local cola brand. Soon we’re at a temple. When we arrive and turn off the engine there is silence. Nobody appears to be around except for a single stray dog. We remove our shoes, go to the water tank to wash our hands avoiding the wasps that are attracted to the water.
Inside it is so peaceful. We go to one side of the temple and Jerry smashes both coconuts as an offering, keeping the small nuts inside. We pay our respects to the gods here, circumambulating the main part of the temple and then exit.
We go sit in the sun and chat. The dog joins us but keeps her distance. Jerry tells me that once a year a big festival comes here and this place is filled with people. Right now it’s hard to imagine. It seems like the most remote and quiet place in the world. While we are talking Jerry points to the dog. She is nodding off but trying hard to stay awake. Soon she is completely asleep.
As we enjoy our drink I hear about some of the challenges faced by his generation here. There is a huge expectation that a young man will either join the army or get a government job. This not only means financial stability, as he describes it, it’s a validation of character. If you have a government job then you are a good person. A good marriage will be arranged for you and your life will be good. People will view you as not only successful but principled, smart, and hardworking. You have the “Government stamp of approval” as it were. If you have a private-sector job, even if it pays well it is not looked upon as being nearly as good because the question remains: “Why couldn’t he get a government job?” He tells me that some families give so much pressure to their sons that they will kill themselves if they can’t manage to follow the prescribed path. But the world is changing and the village is changing with it. I hope that some of the changes coming in the future make it easier and more flexible for the young men and women living here while also maintaining connections within the family and village.