21: we beat our record of the number of strangers posing into one picture, with five more in the background running towards us! Our previous record was in Pura, with 15 people in one shot. Whenever we go to a remote area, we become the object of curiosity and attract kids like magnets. I love it. This time I played a game of trying to grab them, kiss them on the nose if they were toddlers, and laugh as they ran away screaming happily. I am the Big Blonde White Monster!
For a long time, our maid had wanted to take us to her village and introduce us to her mother. It took three long hours to get there, and even longer to come back. It got boring and we took turns sleeping.
The day was wonderful. If often felt surreal. I loved everything, and we started fantasizing, again, about retiring in a remote Indian village, as long as our house has a toilet! Notwithstanding the realities, it is a nice dream. The colors are so breathtaking. People smile at us all the time. Kids come running to us. Every hostess offers us food. If we hadn’t insisted (it’s rude, I know) we would have had lunch four or five times. We drank enough chai (tea) to fill in the Grand Canyon. We exchanged gifts. I met a little girl I can’t wait to meet again. While we were watching a popular dance competition on TV, she showed me her dance moves, so proud, so gracious, yet so shy! She followed me around, sat next to me, held my hand, observed everything I was doing. I don’t even know her name. I was given so many strands of jasmine for my hair that my pillow still smells of flowers.
All the traditional village houses we visited are very dark. The windows are tiny. There are no glass panes to protect against the elements, only wood shutters, and all windows are protected by iron bars, to protect against monkeys coming inside, I assume. The walls are painted bright colors, yellow, blue, green. All the houses we visited had electricity, though one cannot rely on the power supply. Fans were switched on for us. Thank you!
I was having a grand time. So many things were familiar to me, so similar to my grand mother’s village in France: the smells, the old school, the cows, the mother hen and chicks, the lazy Sunday afternoons. But it turned grim in an instant when we witnessed a nasty family dispute over land rights. We were standing in a coconut grove when the shouting match started. Of course we understood zilch of it, but since we knew the background story, and had our trusted translator with us, we know it was about whether someone had the right to pluck one miserable tender coconut. It got nasty. Loud. It was pure hatred. At no point did we feel personally threatened but I was quickly reminded of everything I had read about village politics.
Our nice little dream quickly turned into an ethnographic study and the mood got somber. Some people were in tears, some people were shouting, and we stood there like two stooges. We went into a house and got some more nibbles and tea while the victims were calmed down and the situation discussed. As we were about to leave, we were invited into an old man’s house. He was very nice to us, very welcoming, inquiring in English about our home country and our impressions of India. Our maid proudly said we like everything, especially the food (I know the Kannada word for food!). We were offered more tea, more lunch, and sat on the couch listening to a conversation we didn’t understand. However, we could gather that the old man was a village elder, full of wisdom, full of power. It was a mediation session, women sitting on the floor (except me), men on chairs and sofas, a grand council of sort. We were later told that he instructed the parties to gather their legal documents before going any further.
The trip back was rather silent. What was supposed to be a celebration turned into a slap in the face for one family. E. and I felt powerless. We can be emotional support but cannot change centuries of women being abused by inebriated jealous grumpy men in villages. But we will do what we can with what we have, while we are here. That means mainly emotional support. And going to see a dance recital of the teenager who will not inherit any land.
Because she’s a girl.