Nikhil is a good teacher, because he gives his students homework. "You have to learn this word by tomorrow. Write it on the dirt floor before eating. Then again in the evening. Write it one last time before sleeping so you don't forget." One of the women showed me her assignment. She had traced it into the dirt. "Mata." Mother.
Suresh joined our class along with another male, Bhawar. After everyone left he invited us to his farm. Ratni and Suresh led the way to a field fenced with cactus-like narrow plants. Under the cool shade of a mango tree we ate raw mangoes known as 'kheri' here. Nikhil followed 10 year old Lakshmi up the tree, both of them throwing down mangoes for us to enjoy.
Their land was fed through a private well. We drank some water from it, cool and sweet. The couple then showed us their field, sprouting green with tomatoes, okra, and brinjal. Part of the field lay fallow. A pest is eating our crop here. At the end of their field lay a few tufts of cotton. It was the Bt variety, marketed as resistant to pests like the boll weevil. However, pests regularly attacked their cotton crop. We spray powder on the plants which kill the pests. This wasn't quite the organic farm I had envisioned.
Under the shade of another large-leafed tree we ate juicy tomatoes. Ratni gifted me a few kheris to make sabji with. These two are the closest we have to friends here. Spending time with them I was a recipient of genuine hospitality. They invited us to bathe by their well, but I was starting to feel guilty for taking up so much of their time. We declined the tempting offer and bid them farewell.
Soon after finishing lunch at home, a few guests arrived: Narabda Bai, Radheshyam, Bali, Shanti Bai, and Jasodha. We learned that Bali was moving to her in-laws' in a few days. The preteen shyly showed her freshly applied mehndi. It saddened me that such a young girl, barely past puberty, was already going to live with the 20 year old she was "married" to as an infant. Saying that child marriage is common here would not be an acceptable statement. Rather, it is the only way marriage takes place. The reason behind such a practice I can not grasp.
A few hours later, I heard women singing a slow, melodious song next door. I peeked in to see numerous ladies smearing Bali with yellow haldi paste. I should have been happy for her, but I couldn't bring myself to accept her seemingly premature entry into womanhood. The girl had her whole life ahead of her. She had been a promising pupil, eager and quick to learn. In her new village would she ever learn to read and write? Would she be treated well? Would her future consist of cooking meals and bearing children? The silence of demure Bali didn't reveal emotion. An unsettling feeling remained with me for the remainder of the day.