On the trip back from NREGA, I saw a decrepit woman walking slowly, her body bent from the weight she was carrying. I volunteered to carry her hatchet, and she obliged (it was heavier than it looked). One of her eyes was permanently shut, while the other worked normally. Chakku Bai spoke:
"I am a widow. My daughter-in-law is also a widow, but she wants to throw me out. She doesn't feed me."
Her grandson who was walking with us added his two cents: "She works in NREGA during the day and at the factory at night." Yes, she was a BPL card holder. No, she did not get wheat at a subsidized Rs 2/ kilogram. Rather, she paid Rs 12/kg. We told her to notify us of her next trip to the ration store. I wanted to see the corruption of India's Public Distribution System for myself.
One of our personal goals is to interact with the villagers more. Since they don't come to us anymore we go to them. We were on our way to Laaduji's when a woman invited us in for chai. We don't drink chai doesn't stop the determined. I ended up with a cup of warm cow's milk.
This was Chunnilal's other home. Here lived his older wife (he has two) and his two sons' families. Parsi, one of the daughters-in-law of the family, insisted we stay for dinner. While Nikhil played clown cum entertainer to the family's infants I sat with Parsi as she worked the chhoola. She cut vegetables with the curved, sharp end of a sickle. Rotis were rapidly prepared in thick stacks. Her hands worked quickly, oblivious to the large flame that she effortlessly manipulated. Parsi was a lean, mean, cooking machine. I was thoroughly impressed.
Her husband, Raghubir, worked the night shift at the textile mill. Whenever he walked by she pulled her veil to cover her face. As soon as he left her vision the veil popped back to reveal a well-structured face with strong features. This veil back-and-forth took place multiple times. She probably did it instinctively now, after many years of marriage. Parsi was still young, and I understood 60% of what she said. Her saas, Chunnilal's first wife, was not so easy to understand. When she spoke to me I nodded, then looked to Parsi for translation. Yes, I still feel foreign even though I learned two new words:
1. mangra: stone hill
2. khelda: a concave clay plate used for baking chapatis
So we didn't get to meet Laaduji after all. But I discovered that the milkman comes on the main road at 7 in the morning. A regular supply of milk is an exciting prospect.
We left Parsi's home with full stomachs and grateful hearts. I don't want to make a habit out of dinner socializing. Nevertheless, interacting with the community can only increase our understanding of and comfort with our neighbors. I look forward to many such visits.