the centre sometimes holds

Have had a nice fortnight wandering around Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. Please forgive the serial posting about the trip.

Lucky is a fifteen year old Adivasi boy whom I met in a village twenty minutes from Raigarh. I had been slightly jittery with his mother and the other women in the silk reeling unit which I was supposed to study. With Lucky...we just hung out and he made it possible to do so with sublime confidence. We had several cinematic moments together. His knocking down bunches of imli from a tree for me. Taking me to chat up the old lady who had set up the first chai-shop in the village. We discussed the repercussions of my jumping into the lake where other people were bathing and swimming. We talked about the new movies we had seen. He was a big fan of Hrithik Roshan. He wanted to become a cell-phone repair man in Raigarh. Woh log kam sochte hain, he said about other kids in the village who were not thinking of 'getting out' like he was.

When we walked around the village in the afternoon, I remembered P Sainath's contempt towards journalists who insist on calling villages 'sleepy'. For the first time I understood why they do so. The absolute silence in the streets and lanes is something we city folks associate with siesta, nocturnal rest and sheer inactivity. Having just stepped out of a house, which seemed dead or abandoned from the outside, I knew that inside a man and woman were cooking lunch, cleaning house, washing clothes and talking quietly.

I know kittens are now ok to write about in lj according to the new rules. Unfortunately I did not have a camera so I do not have photographs of the kitten that stalked a butterfly in the backyard while I sat on the khatiya with Lucky. He sketched vines and flowers and offered me random thoughts about life.

At some point though I had to return to the adults and I did so regretfully. To avoid being the pesky, perky, intrusive NGO woman I offered no advice and asked no questions that would offend someone I had met on the train. However Bamadevi and her friends had no such inhibitions. For most part they allowed me to just sit and listen to them chat about their work and their self-help group. I looked appropriately serious and did not laugh even when I saw that someone had scrawled Himesh Reshamiyya lyrics on the wooden rafters. When they turned their attention to me I replied with general friendliness but was not my usual daftly chatty self. Good thing too because there was a strange tension in the air in that particular group. Hostility towards strange NGO women is only normal under the circumstances so I did not react even when one woman took the first-day-in-college type ragging to a new level with some potential for violence. She said she would take away my silver chain if on my next visit I did not bring them all some sweets. I watched my breath and continued to smile in a moronic manner.

The cool Assamese vet in the team was supposed to pick me up from the village but after a while I abandoned hope of rescue. I imagined never being able to get out of the village in a chattisgarhi version of a Shirley Jackson short story. Eventually he turned up and took me to another village where the cheerful sixty year old head of a poultry-producers' cooperative and I made noises about the general uselessness of men. Sangfroid restored, my babysitter led me to chai and samosas back in Raigarh. On the ride back through the forest Satyendra and I argued about whose Hindi was worse. Wearing the same kind of clothes that the other men in the office wore he managed like every other man of his clan to look cool and stylish. Mostly as we whizzed down the empty road I speculated about the hairy moment in the village and whether I had imagined it.


Newer Post Older Post Home