Breaking news: our first vehicle purchase took place yesterday. We are now the proud owners of a sexy black Honda Activa. Not quite a scooty, not quite a motorcycle either. It’s more of a hybrid. Now that commuting isn’t depending on public transportation we loaded our light baggage onto the Activa and head out for the Kheda at 7 am today. This was the beginning of our stay….again. The first one was for two days. That doesn’t count.
The breeze was cool and the trip relatively short. We had been MIA from the village for more than ten days now and a few familiar faces greeted us with smiles. Where were you? Will you stay now? Yes, we were here to stay.
The first point of business was getting in touch with Chunnilal. He possessed a voter’s list – the names and ages of every Kheda resident above the age of 18. We were told that Chunnilal was in another village and would return in the evening.
The afternoon passed slowly. We napped, swatted flies, and sat in between the two open windows. The sweat dripped down my skin and quickly evaporated with each infrequent breeze. The brief rush of air was comparable to the best air conditioners, and I relished the relief thoroughly.
The afternoon passed slowly, too slowly. We decided that our work in the field would be during the mornings and evenings. At 3 pm the heat baked the air without mercy, we dared not venture out. Yes, we’d stay in side in the afternoons – reading, studying, talking, planning. This “us time” would allow us intellectual stimulation.
A quick trip to the market in Baneda and we had a juicy lunch prepared: sweet oranges, ripe bananas, and succulent grapes filled our stomachs for the time being. We planned on using our new wick stove for dinner. I was especially keen since our practice use was successful the first time, unlike the stubbornly dysfunctional pump stove. As the evening set in Nandram invited us to a Bhajan Party at his home tonight. Our lovely new stove would have to wait.
Dinner consisted of daal baati with Nandram’s family and other attendees of the Bhajan Party. The baatis of rolled dough were prepared by baking the ghee-soaked buns in a fire fueled by dung cakes. Sifting through the ashes revealed a pile of well-browned baatis which we crushed and soaked in daal. It was a filling meal, each bite saturated with clarified butter, rich carbs, and oodles of lentils.
Once the megaphone, sound system, and decorative lights were plugged in, the ringing of a prayer bell initiated the ceremonies. From 10 pm to 4 in the morning devotional songs praising the avatars of God echoed throughout Shreeji ka Kheda. People trickled into the courtyard where a thick fabric was spread out for the attendees to sit on. I called it a day around midnight, even though the music continued to disrupt my fragmented dreams till the wee hours of the morning.