Gulli, her husband and two young children, Vijay, Rita, Mummy and I all stayed in this room. Every night we laid down the thin mattresses on the floor by the noisy air-coolers for everyone to sleep. Well, there wasn't room for everyone so the couple slept in the dark, narrow corridor before the entrance of the room, aired with a fan. Sometimes, during the day doing nothing the thoughts filled me: I have come a long way to find these (temporary) conditions normal. I slept comfortably on that floor (provided I had smeared myself with anti-mosquito cream, for there was no mosquito net there). Three years ago I would have been shocked but today I am comfortable, although I would indeed have somewhat higher standards for my own home! The days passed. I practised my understanding of the Bundelkhandi dialect while the family argued about whether or not to see a better doctor in Allahabad, or about various spicy family gossips. I kept myself as busy as I could, playing with the children – though reluctantly with Chotu I must admit, because he wears no nappies (though this is a great thing for the Indian environment!) and pees all the time. We constantly had to try and focus his attention away from the kitchen corner, as at one year old he grabs everything up to his mouth. I would sing, or play the plastic tube we'd call a flute. Or we would give him that cheap, pink plastic mobile phone with the unbearable Bollywood tune, which his brother would play over and over again. And Vijay would sit Chotu on the plastic chair and push him around the room as tough it was a car. Days were filled with noise: the fan, both roaring air-coolers, the horrible plastic phone and the unbearable television, the chair-car's legs pulled around the floor, the children crying or shouting, and the family arguing. If power-cuts are unbearable for the excessive sweat, they are bliss – as when fan, air-cooler and TV stop so does the loud, maddening noise, and silence fills the room and one can hear the forgotten birds outside sing again. When I needed a rest from the decibels and a moment to myself, or if I was just too bored of doing nothing, I would hide myself in the book I was too happy I had remembered bringing. Sometimes I thought I should write a journal, but I had no paper, I didn't want to raise the family's curiosity, and my mood was too idle to let me write anything anyway.
Three of the in-law's cousin children kept coming to see me, giggling with excitement or screaming with fear I wasn't sure, as soon as I would turn my eyes to them. After some time I had enough and ignored them, but one afternoon they invited me to their doll house room to show me a ten-day old monkey! His mother had died, therefore the rest of the monkey clan was going to kill him, so the in-laws had rescued him and were keeping him in their room. He was so cute, so tiny! He was scared and screamed some very high-pitched “Hee! Hee!” I didn't want to take him but I touched his tiny hands and head. Almost bald, it felt like a tiny human. But the following day, I was about to go on my daily rooftop expedition, water bucket in hand, when the in-laws stopped me. They all had gathered on the core floor before the steps; “Don't go!”, Bari Mummy said, “there are at least twenty angry monkeys on the roof! Big ones too.” They had come to retrieve their baby in order to kill him. The in-laws had placed the tiny monkey under a big basket covered with blankets and had locked him in their room to conceal his screams. Now they were waiting until the clan of angry monkeys would leave.
On the last day Mummy, Gulli and he five-year old boy, Rita, Bua (Aunty), Vijay and I went to Chitrakut for an afternoon out. We walked along the ghat on which Vijay and I had been staying two weeks ago with Niko. We even met our boatman again; it was lovely. It made me think of Niko and how much freer we had been then. If I love the experience of staying in a traditional Indian family it is for its “heart-softening” aspect. It is not always easy to say the least, especially the lack of freedom and privacy – but I accept go through it, obviously, because despite everything and above all, I deeply love this family. But that afternoon was just lovely. The family does know and appreciate that coming from a western background, living in “hardcore” traditional conditions can be tough for me, and I know they had organised the outing for me just as well as for them, so I can get out of the house and the boredom it can imply. I am grateful indeed! First of all Mummy went to bathe in the river. The ladies kept teasing me, asking whether I would do too. As I approached the water to dip my feet into it, Mummy like a child splashed me with water as she laughed, in a way that reminded me that I had a genuine place in the family. I only understood what our main purpose was when we set off to take a tour of the famous, auspicious mountain. I had heard of this mountain a few time before but not asked for further clarification – as often is the case in India, it is pointless to ask for explanation; you wouldn't understand if one explained anyway. You just have to see when you get there. Reality speaks better than words, and it never, ever, matches your imagination. Especially in India! It is Hindu custom to take a round of this auspicious mountain. What it entails, I didn't know, but I was going to find out. I was worried about walking barefoot on some rough, seven-kilometre path around a mountain, but Vijay reassured me: the path was paved all along, and bordered with temples and shops. Pfew, OK then. And off we went. There were groups of old sadhus sitting along the path, many temples which we entered one by one for prayer (the family) and darshan and to get our forehead smeared with colourful tikas. When the rain started we hid under a shelter for a chai. It seemed an easy pilgrimage road to me, but we saw some men crawling along the path turning around a coconut at each step (or crawl!) make it a harsh austerity!!! I wonder how many hours it took them to crawl the whole seven kilometers in this way!? I had not seen so many monkeys ever before. Monkeys everywhere! Monkeys playing, monkeys eating, monkeys running around, monkeys jumping, monkeys sitting doing nothing, monkeys breastfeeding, monkeys having sex!
We walked some more; the ladies stopped for too long at each saree or bangle or prayer accessory shop. I walked on with Vijay. Towards the end of the promenade we sat under a shelter by a (dried up) pool to wait for the ladies we had long lost on our way. A young sadhu was sleeping on a bench; he fascinated me. He couldn't have been more than twenty. He must have had polio: on of his feet was atrophied and his leg was stick-thin me no muscles. He had laid his wooden crunches under the bench. His dirty dreadlocks were wrapped in a rag of cloth, and all he was wearing was an orange piece of cloth around his waist and another one round his torso. I wanted to take a picture of him sleeping but I was too shy and I took too long. Soon he woke up and looked at me with a soft smile, and joined his hands to me in namaste. I loved him straight away. He accepted that I take his photo, but unlike most sadhus he didn't ask for the ten rupees. He just smiled humbly; he wanted nothing. He smoked a biddi and placed the packet and the matchbox in a folded corner of his cloth. After a moment he offered me a new namaste, placed his alms bowl upside down on his head as though it was a hat and left. Vijay and I started walking again and when we reached the end of the round we went to sit on the steps of a shop to wait for the ladies again. We had walked three hours. The same night we left back to Khajuraho.
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) 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.