Friday, March 12, 2010

The Big Move

A slight knock on the door was enough to shake me out of my slumber. I hurriedly rolled my bedhead hair into a bun and walked out in my glasses. Taraji was dressed in a richly decadent ghagra-choli. Can you come with me , now? She seemed to be in a hurry. Despite not having the slightest idea of what was going on, I agreed.

We rode on her scooty to a nearby temple where hordes of other well-dressed females were climbing up a set of stairs. Taraji explained that today was Das-a Mata ka Vrat. On the 10th, women fasted to honor their mother-in-laws. A group of shiny-sari-clad women tied holy thread on the trunk of a young peepul tree, walking around the plant numerous times. Taraji collected seven stones, dabbed them with wet mehndi and kum-kum, and sprinkled grains of wheat on top. So that no one goes hungry in the world. Amongst the made-up bahus (daughter-in-laws) I was a sore thumb- bespectacled, unshowered, and half-awake. Clearly, out of place. The puja hardly took 15 minutes and we promptly headed back. Today was the day of the big move.

After a refreshing bath and a hearty breakfast Nikhil and I set out for Baneda.We hoped Shantaji would speak with Nand Ram, the man whose room we were renting for the next six months. He was asking Rs 300 which seemed unreasonable. After all, rent in Baneda was Rs 100 and Shreeji ka Kheda was a smaller village. Shantaji’s tenant, Pundit Chandrashekar, was just leaving when we reached. He stopped a while and chatted with us. It turns out that Punditji is in-charge of dispensing pension to widows, the elderly, and NREGA workers. He too was averse to our chose of SKK as ground zero. If you want to put out a fire you don't jump in it. Otherwise you too will perish. Nevertheless, he pledged his wholehearted support and talked to Nand Ram, fixing our monthly rent at Rs. 50 (about one dollar).

The afternoon was spent shopping for odds and ends. After two hours we were seated on a tempo, heading to SKK with essentials for our new home: a steel matka, three gallons of kerosene, a pump-driven kerosene stove, basic spices, and six identically flimsy pink, plastic bins to store our edibles in. We picked up a few bananas and biscuits, in case the kerosene stove didn't work.

I take great pleasure in calling our one-room brick residence "home". Other than two bags of fodder in the veranda the area had been cleared for us. Since we didn't have electricity and the evening was closing in quickly, dinner preparations were our first concern. The kerosene stove's operation was harder to operate than I thought. Numerous failed attempts later, I had almost iven up. A dinner of biscuits and bananas seemed inevitable.

Raghuvir showed up. Chunnilal's son must have seen two despondent souls, crouched by a metal contraption, a pile of charred matches strewn about. He claimed ignorance on starting such a stove, but soon discovered the problem. A leaky lid prevented air pressure from building up. The solution was unexpectedly simple. A chunk of plastic film placed on the opening, the lid screwed on, and behold! Temporary airtightness prevailed. Raghuvir worked the night shift at the factory, so he bid us farewell as we proceeded to cook our first meal at Shreeji ka Kheda - daliya and moong dal.

By the time we finished our satisfying meal, a lone candle was our only source of light. Prembai, Nand Ram's sister, stopped by for a while. Nand Ram joined us later as well, along with his wife Shanti and their daughter. General conversation lasted until the wick of our candle burned out. At 8:30 with no source of light, it was time to call it a day.

Since the weather was gorgeous we decided to sleep outside on the veranda. Laying on the charpai I faced a universe of stars. Galaxies, planets, planes, suns - each speck and cluster of light contributed to the flood of twinkles in the mosquito-less sky. Nearby, a speaker blasting bad versions of Bollywood songs and technofied Rajasthani folk lulled me to sleep.

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