I still snoop from hotel windows, and I am not about to stop. I love watching life in India, everything seems to happen outside, in the open, for everyone to see. These are my observations from our room in Hyderabad while E. was busy at work.
Early on when we moved here, Sathya taught us the distinction between the construction workers’ camps and slums. Workers’ camps are everywhere in Bangalore since the city is victim to massive expansion, and in many other parts of the country. You can easily spot them with the ubiquitous blue tarps, and often little kids running around, since entire families live there. I am still not sure what constitutes a slum (legal vs. sociological vs. moral definition), but my understanding is that construction workers are migrant workers, usually from the Northern parts of India, and as can be expected, pack and go when the work is finished. People who live in slums generally don’t move away, you can easily find people who have lived there for several generations. What I was looking at were clearly migrant camps.
Late in the morning, I “met” a couple living with their young adult son (it’s my story remember, I get to invent who’s who!). The mother got dressed, then did her hair, very much like I do every morning. The main difference would be that I don’t go to work in a sari, and I am blonde. But I loved the details as to how she parted her hair, cleaned her comb, throwing her hair into the air with a flick of her wrist (I would have put it in a trash basket). Her sari is impeccably pressed, and all her jewellery in place: necklace, anklets, nose ring, toe rings and bangles, each wrist symmetrical to the other. Meanwhile, her husband was polishing his shoes, he’s probably not a construction worker. The son? He first took a shower, outside, with a bucket, with a towel wrapped around his waist. I did leave when I thought the towel would be dismissed, but no, it never happened, the towel stayed put! I like his sun tattoo.
About an hour later, the three of them were walking to work.
Then came lunch time. Two women were alone with children in the “main area”. Sathya was right, they are ethnically from the Northern parts of India, thought I expected groups from Rajasthan like we see in Bangalore. They first did the laundry with a bar of soap, a brush and lots of elbow grease, folded yesterday’s clothes that were lying on the outside “bed/sofa”, and changed into fresh clothes.
They then went on to cooking. The kids were running around, playing with buckets of water, and were carried away by doting parents when they approached the fire pit. Water was carried in a pot, put on the firepit and one woman was breaking twigs with her food to feed the fire. I was surprised to see they have a pressure cooker (a must for Indian cooking) and that the guys were pitching in: one washed his hands before sorting out what looks like beans. I am always impressed by the way they do the dishes in dirty water. Look closely, you can see mehendi (henna tattoos) on her left hand.
There were many more people working in this neighbourhood. Take a good look at the woman in a sari and flip flops, bent in half, scraping dirt and rocks into her bowl and hauling it away on her head. This is a very common sight, yet still disturbing to me.
Much further away in what I call the “other housing unit”, the men all came back at the same time for lunch.
Let’s put all of this into perspective by adding a legend to the first image posted:
You can see many satellite dishes, yet we didn’t find anything that would remotely resemble a toilet.
We had to change rooms the next day and got a view on a very different group of workers: IT professionals. The modern side of India is real and growing (I get upset when people say that only rural and poor India is “the real India”), made possible, among others, by all the people shown above.
During your lunch break, you gotta relax, take your glasses off and lay on the grass, kick off your shoes, yawn and hang out with your friends.
Which grass is being clipped by hand, by gardeners sitting on the ground, moving inch by inch. That’s what I call a manicured lawn!
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