Village Life and the Holy Bull.
I am working in the local school teaching English in the mornings. Its fun, but a handful, the kids are pretty rowdy. They are enthusiastic at having an English person there though, and I spent my first day answering questions like ‘ma’am, what is your father’s name?’ and ‘ma’am, what is you’re favourite insect?’ and ‘ma’am what is you’re god’s name?’ One kid told me he had 85000 gods, but then he told me he had 15000 brothers as well, so I really don’t know what’s going on there. I go to assembly at 7.30 am, where the teachers spend about 10 minutes organising them into lines, and I’ve seen teachers carrying children lengthways across the yard to the right place… they still have corporal punishment there, but its never harsh enough to hurt the kids, and the teachers can also be really affectionate towards them, cuddling them and kissing their cheeks if they’re upset. It’s all so strange to see- totally different from anything in England.
The family are really fascinating, they go out to cut the crops with a sickle in the fields, and carry it back on their heads, and they grind the lentils and dahl for dinner with a stone grinder and cook sitting down over an open fire. The food situation is difficult, it tastes good but my stomach is protesting. Its curry three times a day, including breakfast at 6am… I was invited to a staff party the other day, as it was the Principal’s birthday- strangely the women ate separately to the men, and we had Indian tea (very nice, like English tea but strong with loads of sugar and milk and ginger) and Indian sweets with a plate of the hottest food I’ve ever tasted (not a good combination, sweets and curry by the way, even by my standards.) Even the other Indian women were fanning themselves!
When two more volunteers came, we went for a walk in the nearby hills. We were headed to a large hill on the other side of a valley, which is ledged with rice paddies. It started out as a nice walk, but then I realised the sun had dropped quite drastically, and the paths were narrow and steep and slippery, and I thought there was no way I would be getting back in the pitch black especially not downhill. But the others being keen walkers wanted to push on to this particular hill point which was apparently better than all the rest. It was pretty amazing when we got there to be fair, in the sunset, with spikey trees everywhere shaped like candelabras, but then we realised we had a long way to go back and it was already getting dark. So we had to cut across the valley in the end, bunnyhopping down the rice paddies, balancing on the ledges so we didn’t ruin the crops! They went out again the next day apparently, got lost, had to cut across the paddies again and got attacked by leeches, so I had a lucky escape it seems.
Mr Verma took me to temple the other day- I’d mentioned I wanted to see it so he marched me up the steps and into the annex where a group of Indian people were huddled around the inner sanctum. He shouted at them to move aside, which they sort of did as Mr Verma has quite a lot of authority in the village, and then ushered me right to the front where I stuck my head into this shrine. There was a priest in there, and he just looked at me and then thrust a load of petals and a banana into my hand… I resurfaced and Mr Verma took the petals and rubbed them into his hair, all rather casually, while I just stood there with this banana perched on my open palm like a simpleton…
I was waiting outside the temple the other day after school, and got talking to a very nice priest. He told me he knew Jim Corbett, who is quite famous in India for catching man-eating tigers, and apparently this priest helped him catch one in the nearby forest back in the day. He says he’ll show me the picture someday. Apparently there are no tigers left in these forests now, but there is the odd leopard, and snakes and plenty of monkeys which is cool.
Went to Bageshwar the other day with the other volunteer Gethin, and we took a shared jeep which was fun. You just wander up the path and if there’s a jeep you stop it, ask for Bageshwar, and then jump in. They’re ridiculously cramped, but entertaining, although the woman next to me was throwing up out of the window for the whole journey. As we were waiting for more passengers, a bus pulled up and we spotted a tourist, which was bizarre as I haven’t seen another tourist since I left Delhi, and prompted Gethin to say with /genuine/ enthusiasm, ‘oh look, a white person!!’ He pointed and everything, was hilarious. Anyway, Bageshwar is the most important pilgrimmage town in the Kumaon area, so when we got to the temple complex we saw some sadhus which GREATLY excited me- they’re extreme Hindu people who have given up their material lives and wander barefoot from place to place, sleeping in temples and begging for food, trying to achieve ‘Moksha,’ which is Hindu enlightenment. You can usually spot them as they wear ‘saphron’ robes and look like they’re on the dge of a mental breakdown.
We asked the priest if we could go into the main temple, and he said yes, so we stepped into the annex and headed towards the inner sanctum. It was pretty dark, so we went slowly, and a few seconds later the priest came running in screeching at us to get out- he pointed behind us, and we looked, and this absolute beast of a bull was coming out from the shrine!! The three of us backed out slowly, trying to avoid a charge… was quite funny as it looked like it had been praying in there. Cows and bulls are sacred here so they’re allowed to hang about inside the temples apparently.