Kotumachagi and a storm that changes lives….

It’s been a long day – lots of driving over rough roads – Sikandar’s lawyer friend Nadaf came with us and sat and chatted in the front with Sikandar.

That left me in the quiet of my own space, sitting in the back seat, taking occasional pics out the window and enjoying the passing parade between fields and villages.

Finally about 2.30 we stopped for food at a nondescript looking place that had a table out under a neem tree where the motor bikes parked. It was cool there and the food was excellent!! an amazing lunch.

And then we arrived at Sikandar’s village. We are sitting up in the roof. There are two rooms here one even has a mattress in the bed. I have claimed that one for tonight!! It’s not usually used and in sort of in a store room of farm stuff.
This is a small farming village and right behind the house is a Hindu temple and two doors down is the mosque. So the call to prayer is pretty loud here!
The village sounds now are good. Very few vehicles the occasional motor bike. But all the houses are close together so there is a lot of people noise.
Chit chatting laughing kids noise, people walking past. Oh a tractor just started up. I am sitting on a plastic chair with my feet up on the wall. Sikandar is in his village clothes. A lungi and a t shirt that I bought him in Greece last year proclaiming ‘Athens’ on it with a Greek pattern. He is sitting on the wall chatting to a friend. No clue what they are talking about so it is just quiet noise to me.

The family goat is tied by the front door and is ‘meahing’.. maybe she is a bit hungry?
There is thunder In the distance and a bit of a storm hanging around but no rain here yet. Nice cool breeze though. Guess we will eat something in an hour or so. Hoping for an early night.

And then the rains came. I retreated from the rooftop as the first big drops splattered around me, into the small room built for guests – where Sikandar was to sleep. I took my plastic chair with me – Sikandar also entered with a friend, they talked quietly for some time but the rain began beating on the metal roof with louder and louder insistence.

A storm, lightning, huge thunder and incessant rain – so heavy .. I read my book for some time then suddenly the power went off.  As I sat there listening to the downpour, the fury of the weather beating all around me, I thought of the farms we had driven through all afternoon. Of the farmers there ploughing and putting in their seeds and some of them harvesting the early corn and other small crops.. and of Sikandar’s father coming home on his tractor in the afternoon.. he had been seeding – channa – chick peas and wheat.  What of those seeds now?  Where were they? Washed away.. washed out?  What of the coming crop – those tiny seedlings that were poking their heads through – washed away?  What of the fertiliser at Rps1500 a bag.. a precious 1500 when you don’t have much – also washed away?

A storm like this is not just a rain storm here .. it is a shift in the balance of economy in just a couple of hours, meaning the difference between a good year and a bad.. a hungry year and a bounteous year.

As I felt the full force of this storm the rain also came to my eyes.. I allowed myself to feel what each farming family in this village must be feeling .. the devastation of the rain. Yes certainly rain is needed,  but at this time – too late in the season of the monsoon to have a downpour like this.. the farmers confused in their normal timing of sowing and seeding.. not knowing when to start – when to wait.. the pattern is so changed.

Nature in her natural cycles – should be feeling the downturn of the rains now – what used to be  left of the monsoons more gentle, easily absorbed by the land – nurturing to the crops .. not belting down and tearing through the land like a ravaging flood.

But finally it begins to abate.. and it is time to go downstairs to the main living area of the house.. I try to huddle into the back of Sikandar struggling to shelter under a very inadequate umbrella as we go down the steps.. getting my back soaked anyway.

And into the house, where the small goat now nestles in the corner, lucky she is out of the rain .. and Sikandar’s mother and father move around the house, mopping up the flood that has entered through the cracks in the windows.. concerned lest the sacks of grains stored there are wet, shifting them into the middle of the room out of the way of the water streams.. most are safe with only a couple of jute bags with wet patches on the bottom.

and finally dinner..

We sit on the mat .. a plastic version of the older style straw mats.. and his mother brings food.. delicious food she has cooked in the light of a small candle.. two types of vegetables, channa with a green tastiness, and a green veg .. also delicious .. some fried green chillis with salt, chappati, pickle, the taste of home cooked farm food, so good. How did she manifest this feast over the tiny stove in the kitchen – in the almost darkness of the power outage?

We eat and I retreat back up stairs to read and sleep fortunate to find the window by my bed had held the rain back – keeping my bed relatively dry. Then to wake a little disorientated having been dreaming ‘Australia” and finding myself here in this room in an Indian village so far from the pictures of my native home.

And I think on the world and the weather chaos that is happening all over.. the hurricanes and floods and major disasters – and I realise that here too a disaster has just occurred – but who will hear of it? Who will know the hardship that will result in this village from the downpour of last night? The loss of the crops – the shortage of food in the future.. the confusion of the not knowing any more how to trust the patterns of the seasons.

These are the silent places – not shouted out like major events – but disasters just the same… the weather is changing – there is no denying it – ask the farmers in Kotumachagi – they know.  They need no scientist to tell them the statistics.. they overnight have become a statistic.

Keeping Promises

I wake at 5.45 – it is just getting light, the grandfather of the house has begun his day, unlocking the gates and putting the dog, Olive back into her house – her guarding job over for another night.  It is time to get up, time to don loose clothes and light walking shoes and leave my safe haven.

I had been promising myself for days to begin walking again in the morning.  A very easy thing to do in my home place of Perth – places to walk to the beach, to the coffee shop, in the park – around the quiet morning streets.  But here?  In India where always I stick out as the foreigner.  I have to again gather my spirit to move outside my comfort zone and find out how it is to join the rest of the healthy folks who also ‘walk’ in the morning.

I live very close to a ‘ground’ the place where cricket and other games are played, and sometimes even concerts are held.  It is in the huge compound of the BVB College – where our offices are .. and the locked night gates open at 5 am.

“No, you don’t need to take anything with you – just have a big drink now and leave the bottle at home.   Mobile phone – forget it.. just your keys slipped in the pocket and off you go.”

The street outside is quiet – a couple of early morning dogs prowling near the rubbish bins on the corner – a young man cleaning his motorbike.  I walk to the gate and enter – picking up speed as I go.  It’s cool this morning – the air still fresh from the evening’s rain. There are lots of people around the ground – jogging, walking, striding it out – I too stride along – starting to feel the warmth of the exercise coursing through my sleep soaked body.

The trees here are special – some – the ‘sky jasmine’ having strewn their prolific night blossoms as a carpet below them.  I walk the path through the campus buildings and do a ’round’ then head down to the ‘ground’ to join the morning enthusiasts.  One lap is enough for me now and I head back to my place… the body feels good – a little stiff in my right hip but that will easily pass. I have walked for a good half hour. Ahh, time for a meditation – this time in front of the fan as I am sweating and hot.

And then my morning coffee.  Thankfully the power is on this morning so there is no wait for my ‘coffee fix’ so I sip the hot strong black brew and write.

What did I learn on my walk?  That in keeping my promise to myself, there are far-reaching consequences that go way beyond ‘exercise’.

My ‘being’ rejoices – it ‘gets’ that I stand by my values for myself – for no one else.. simply for myself.

And as I do this – my values hold and are reaffirmed, I have put another building block of integrity in my life – just by the simple act of going for a morning walk.

Embarrassed, shy? Get over it and smile.

I wake early on Saturday morning – its relatively quiet yet.. kids doing sport yelling deep in the background – birds – the occasional rickshaw sputtering. The sound of the mop and bucket cleaning the tiles downstairs. The metallic clatter of the dishes being cleaned has not yet begun – she comes a little later these days.

I have resumed my morning meditation but I am far from quiet.  My head wanders all over the place on inconsequential meanders.  Right now in this first couple of days back in India  I am feeling self-conscious – here safe in my room but at anytime I emerge, I am again shy, a little nervous. Aware of my ‘foreignness’ and my strange status as an older foreign female wandering around on my own.

Women tend to move in packs.  Not always true but in the male dominated ‘hotels’ (restaurants) there may be only one or two women with their husbands- or perhaps a table of 4-5 women together. At the hotel where I come to eat my evening meal,  no-one is alone like me. No-one foreign – just me. ‘ Is it okay?’ I ask myself constantly – always eyes are on me.

I am embarrassed – I don’t know what is available in the hotel – there is no menu – just what I see around me.  The man opposite me is finishing his ‘thali’.  I don’t want that.  There is pau baji – white soft bread rolls slightly sweet with a tomato based spicy sauce – also not tonight – but perhaps they serve dosa – so I ask for that.  ‘Masala dosa?’ the waiter says.. yes – that’s it.. relief….I have ordered.

The man opposite orders something – it comes – a sort of frothy lemon drink.  It seems cold with ice.. he appears hesitant but then begins to drink.  I catch his eye and ask: ‘Nice?’ he nods.  End of communication.  He leaves it half finished on the table and gets up to leave.  No recognition or nod to acknowledge his going.

My dosa comes just as I am trying to sneak a pic of the male dominated room.. my pic is blurred and full of waiter’s stomach.

But the dosa is great!!  I would like a lassi – but not many hotels serve these in this area. I don’t see them being given.  Only chai and it is too late for that. I am not ready for a sleepless chai fuelled evening.  So I let the thought of it go and signal for the bill.

That is easy in any language. 32 rupees – about 60 cents. It was a delicious dosa.  I wash my eating hand with the cup of water into the dish in front of me as is perfectly acceptable here.  I fish for my money, pay and move out to the street with some relief.

Next a little shopping.  Breakfast pre-purchased tonight – curd (yoghurt) and banana – easy.  The street is busy, cars, rickshaws, motor bikes – walking on the side with the traffic coming behind me – the Indian way – I reach a tiny hole in the wall shop.  There are 4- 5 people standing outside at the narrow counter.  And the lady inside recognises me – there is welcome in her eyes – we smile together and I ask for curd – doh pakit – 26 rupees and panch banana. Oh, mistake – I wanted 4 and I asked for 5! but I get them and pay and we are both happy.

I will go there again for the friendly face.

Why am I so nervous when really in the face of all these daily small challenges, the most important thing I need to remember is that I am the stranger.  It is up to me to find my smile, to jump over my shyness, my embarrassment at who I am, my awkwardness with my language barrier.

Smile Shazar – practice every day, every moment to catch the eye of the person next to you and smile for who are they but another one of you.

Emotions – the roller-coaster of life

Emotions are the roller-coasters of life.  How would my life be if  I can detach from my emotional body?   Would that be freedom?  Would that be flat, like a desert plain with no ripples, no valleys, no heights?

Who would I be if I left my emotional self on the shelf for a week, or a day or a lifetime?

I think about this and then I see how grateful I am for my emotions as without them my joy of yesterday would not have been.  But when I am feeling as I do this evening, how to discover that gratitude for my emotion?  This feeling that is palpable inside me – of emptiness – tinged with a hollowness.

I watch myself hurry to try to fill it or push it away – scrolling through Facebook.  Stop – here is ‘addiction’.  Considering a trip to the ‘wine shop’ – again – stop here is ‘addiction’.  For what is ‘addiction’ but the filling of emptiness with something.  That something called distraction.

Oh, let me go into this feeling or perhaps through it – truly searching out what it is.  So I may better see who I am beneath my daily exterior being.

Look, Shazar.  Who are you when you are alone?  Who are you when you feel lonely?  When the landscape ahead of you feels strange and not your own.  When this land you are in is just out of reach of touch.  Look, Shazar – look inside who is this, who is teetering on this gap?

I chose the gap.  There is the cosmic humour.

I chose to put myself here, to remove myself from the familiar, the family, the lover, the friends, – my choice.  Why?

To experience just this – to push myself to the edge so I can discover myself – the layers within.

And to discover that I am never alone, to unfold the immensity and depth of who I really am.  Out beyond the small self.  Out beyond the limits of the mind.  There lies no thing – there lies the all and everything.

Emotion comes, emotion goes
the waves of the ocean ebb and flow.
Bliss, loneliness, fear, passion.
What of these waves in me
But signposts to the infinite
the land of my being
the truth of my soul
revealing the sands
where I am we.

Footnote on a lighter vein: A special friend of mine suggested that these feelings of deep aloneness that can be distressing are related to our ‘herd’ mentality.  We need the mob of some sort around us!  mmm I can relate to that.. “get out there on the street girl”.. there are plenty of folks here in India togive me the feeling of being in a ‘herd’!!

Don’t drink the water – on your first day back!

Being sick in a different land has its own challenges.  A wretched persistent UTI coupled with a dose of Hubli well water runs.. mmm.

Sometimes I am glad of the medical world.  Despite my gung ho attitude about all things pharmaceutical at most times.  Tonight after a day of being pretty much flat on my bed, Umesh – our young accountant from SRDS (where I am working) organised a trip to the Dr for me.  First, he took a token – Number 30 – at the doctor’s clinic around the corner.  The one who’s office waiting room is always overflowing.  An hour later he went back to see how things were progressing. There had been no progress and the Doctor, in fact, had not arrived as yet.  The crowd was even greater than usual.  “Come back at 9,” they said (it was 6.30) so he traipsed to 4 other clinics in the area – all were either not there or similarly packed.

“Ah but let’s try Dr Nayan the lady doctor.”

We hopped on the bike – me a little gingerly – tucking my long Indian style overshirt up so as not to get caught in the wheels and set off in search of this highly recommended lady doctor.

The waiting room was lit by a bright light – two rows of plastic chairs facing each other.  A drug company calendar on the wall, a big notice pinned to the door warning of the dangers of breast cancer.  And a small tasteful drawing of a lady holding a baby gently – with a sign which said “Save The Girl Child”.

After some time the door opened and a pretty woman in a bright sari – Ashwini – ushered me into the Doctor’s office.

Dr Nayan was a gem.  An older lady who had been practicing in that tiny clinic for 32 years.  She questioned me with interest about my purpose here – congratulated me on doing the work ‘at my age’  and gave me a thorough examination on her narrow bench.

Toward the end her husband arrived – (a Pediatric Doctor) we were duly introduced and he expressed great interest in our work of rainwater harvesting.  I should have given him a card – sometimes we forget simple connections like that.

Duly laden with pills and potions in a nice enviro bag I paid Dr Nayan the huge sum of
Rs 410 – less than $10 for a consultation that I was entirely satisfied with.  She has made a fan.  I know where I shall go if I need a doctor another time.

We rode back home – bananas and curd (yogurt) for dinner followed by my first dose of pills.

Work fast please – I have work to do.  And yes right now it is time to rest.

(Update two days later.. better.. rested.. ready for work tomorrow.)