After a week in Varanasi, on 31st July I left to Karwi. I had bought some biscuits and bananas for the train journey. When I arrived at the station I realised quickly that tying the plastic bag full of bananas to my rucksack had not been such a good idea: a monkey had climbed from the rail track onto the platform and was walking in my direction! I quickly turned and walked away from him to untie the plastic bag and hide it. Alas my nails were too short and of course, I should just have quickly torn the plastic. In no time the monkey jumped on my rucksack, broke the plastic bag in his flight and landed on to the other side with his stolen feast. I screamed, more out of surprise than out of fear, because half a second later the thief was already eating my bananas with great pride. I stared at him mouth open for a short while, then looked around me. All the waiting travellers had been looking at the scene with great amusement and, indeed, they were still laughing. A little embarrassed I smiled, walked to the nearest fruit stall to buy new bananas and quickly hid the new plastic bag inside my rucksack.
I had booked a train to Khajuraho but I stopped halfway in Karwi, where Vijay, his third sister Rita and his mother had already been for a few days in order to consult a specialist for some of Rita's recurring health problems. They were staying with Vijay's second sister Gulli who lives in her husband's family house. I was pleasantly surprised; Rita was clearly a lot better than she had been a week before. I stayed with them four days during which we visited various doctors for further checks and treatment. This didn't take much time of our days,and the rest of the time we just all stayed in that big, old, dilapidated home of a room in which Vijay's sister lives.
The household here probably represents Hindu's ancient family tradition in the most authentic way that I have come to see. The house is situated in an old picturesque narrow lane off the main road. It is over a hundred years old and resembles a huge labyrinth of interlinked flats all opened to one another. “Flat” is the only word I can think of and may not be the most appropriate to describe sections of the house consisting of just one or two rooms, mostly small, in which each couple of the family lives. Indian women, once married, have to leave their biological families to go live with their husbands' families. Thus, patriarchal families composed mostly of men may become very extended under one roof. In Vijay's house, the paternal grandparents have died, and of their three sons only one (Vijay's father's younger brother) is still alive. Even then, when Vijay's father was alive he left his own father's home to live only with his wife and children. Thus Vijay doesn not live with any of his paternal uncles, and his household consists just of mother and unmarried siblings. In the Karwi house, however, the whole paternal structure has remained: Gulli's father-in-law still lives with his brother, both of whom live with their own wives, their married sons their wives and children, and their unmarried children. Thus Gulli's husband lives not only with his own nuclear family, but also those of his uncle, brothers and “cousin brothers”. Although they live independently in their own little flats or room, all couple live within the same enormous house, door open constantly so they can visit one another at any time.
The property reminds me of an huge, interlinked doll house, organised around a main open area, the rooms around which are occupied by both eldest males occupy with their wives. All rooms, of course, are very traditional with thick painted walls made of bricks and with thick, inbuilt shelves. They are simply furnished, perhaps with a hard wooden bed that serves as sofa or table during the day, a big truck for storage covered with a decorative cloth, some rugs and frames, a television kept on a small table. Often there is no cupboard for clothes; instead they are kept hanging off a thick laundry-type rope, and kitchen hobs and utensils racks have their place on the floor in a corner of the room. On the walls, the stains that have come with age add to the décor's beauty.
The core of the house consists of a main room in which Gulli's father-in-law lives and which could be considered as the primary, welcoming room. Next door is the main kitchen (although separate couples cook in a corner or small room of their own flats) and opposite is the common bathroom, which really is just another dilapidated room full of many big water buckets and pots for bucket-shower. In this bathroom there is no toilet. One can pee in a corner of the room on the floor that is slightly tilted, so the pee is directed down and underneath an outside door, into an abandoned room. If you must poo you'll have to go on a small adventure upstairs! For this you must put on the untouchable flip-flops dedicated for the operation (which are kept in the bathroom), take a small bucket of water with you upstairs and head off to the rooftop where the two toilet cabins are located. But beware of the monkeys! There can be many of them, an entire family, so you may need to scare them away with a big stick (or ask a braver man to do this for you). Once the path is free, before you enter the meter-square toilet you must pour the water of your first bucket into a second bucket that never leaves the cabin, for Hindus do not mix untouchable and touchable buckets. After you've done your business and washed your behind with the water from the untouchable bucket using your left hand, you step out of the room and take the touchable bucket (which you had left outside in front of the toilet door) with your right hand. Off downstairs and back to the bathroom to wash your hands, remove the untouchable flip-flops, and wash (rince) your feet with water.
The core of the house is still in a reasonable state, but some peripheral rooms have fallen into rubbles. One room on the rooftop has been abandoned because it could break down at any time. To access Gulli's flat you need to walk along a half open, half dark corridor towards one end of the house. On your way if you can look down onto the ruins of what used to be another room long ago, but which has now become an kind of garden filled with red bricks. Gulli's home consists of two ugly old rooms and two small back rooms that are only used for storage,as they have no outside windows and are therefore very dark. I had come to this house about four times but had never noticed those rooms as there doors had always been closed. They have a real toilet room at least though, thanks to which I have been allowed to avoid the toileting expedition describe above. Although, I have not always been allowed to poo there in times of power-cut when there was too little water in the buckets (the water is supplied using an electrical device which pumps water from underground below the house) because they are too close to the habitable area! Back to the only habitable room, it is very old, with cracks in the ceiling and on top of the walls, and layers of dusts and cobwebs in unattainable places and corners, too old and shabby to bear the effort of renovation. At one end of this big room, there's a bed in one corner and a cosmetic area in the other. At the other end, a kitchen corner (i.e. a small shelf and two hobs and a gas bottle on the floor) on the left, and the TV on the right. A big rope hangs across the room on which the daily clothes are kept.
A note on my three blogs
A note on my blogs
(1) vio; in love with india - this one is the main blog about my Indian adventures, which started in 2005. I don't write much on this blog these days because I prefer to write privately in the confidential blog. But check out the categories and the index to figure out your way. I have kept some older posts not about India but which I still find interesting or relevant in Old words. Also check out my new, fun category Only in India in which I post photos of funny, unique, Indian situations...
(2) vio; sounds of india - this is my blog of sounds, because India wouldn't be as incredible if it was not so vibrant and just so full of incredible sounds!
(3) vio; confidential - this an extension of my main blog in which I post entries I do not want to reveal to the entire webspace for privacy or sensitivity reasons. You must receive an invitation from me and then accept the invitation to be able to read it. You may email me if you are interested in receiving an invitation.