“You’ll have the list by evening.”
The Block Literacy Coordinator promised a list of registered pension-receivers by 4 pm. And so we could do nothing but wait. This list was crucial for our survey to begin. We went back home. We sweeped, mopped, cooked, ate, cleaned. We reache,d wrote, contemplated, idled. At 4 pm, there was no sign of a list. Yet another day gone to waste, I thought.
I was on my way downstairs when Nandram’s wife, Shanti Bai, invited me to sit down. “So,” she began, “how are things? We don’t hear from you.” Nandram continued: “People ask us, ‘what work are those two doing? We never see them.’ We don’t know what to say.” Nikhil came down and joined us. We explained how we would start a survey in a few days, and that mingling with people would be possible only once we had adjusted into our new home. This was, after all, our fourth day here.
Shanti Bai complained of her strong headaches. They had spent thousands on medicines but to no avail. Nandram spoke of his unemployment. The fields were fallow, the patvari corrupt, and no insurance compensation in sight. For an hour we heard them out, trying our best to clarify that we couldn’t solve their problems for them. I got the impression that they wanted someone to fix things. They lacked ideas when we asked “What next?” The discussion was helpful. We need to have more such interactions with the people if we are to understand them.
Another Bhajan party took place tonight. Nandram asked us to come, but we declined at first. The hostess then came to invite us personally. We couldn't refuse. At the Bhajan party Jasoda, Nandram's daughter, scooped up a dollop of henna paste into her hand and applied a circle of it on the center of my palm. For a few hours, the henna seeped in. When the paste dried and crusted, I peeled off the hardness to reveal a deep orange semi-permanently etched on my skin.
This Bhajan party, unlike the last one, went on till 6 in the morning. That is, until the electricity went out. Two devotional sermons in three days. Two temples for a village of seventy homes. It is becoming clear how religous the residents of Shreeji ka Kheda really are. Everything is left up to Him. After a failed crop, sick family members, and rampant illiteracy is there anyone else they can turn to for hope? God is very much alive in the Kheda.