Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thoughts of Empowerment on an Idle Day

Thursday is the new "Sunday." For some reason NREGA work pauses on this day and the villagers carry out the errands they've put off until their one day off from work. What did this mean for us? A day to do nothing.

We sat in our room, ventilated by the warm wind, protected from the ever-increasing heat I am slowly becoming accustomed to. I was eager to test out our newest purchase, a 1.5 litre pressure cooker. Daliya for breakfast, cooked in 5 minutes with no excess water. Brinjal sabji similarly successful with no burnt edges. The stirring, frying, oil splattering no longer took unnecessary time. I felt like those ladies in bad infomercials - bright-eyed, decked in immaculate housewifely attire they swear by the wonders of their new contraption. Yes, it really has changed my life!

Once again, the handpump is broken, but we are not water-less. Jasodha introduced us to a motor-run well nearby, connected to a pipe that gushes out cool, clear water. Mangu Lal, the owner of the well, lives there and grows vegetables - onions, tomatoes, keris, etc. Buying produce from him would save us the trouble of going to Baneda.

I was getting ready for a bath with this wonderfully cool water when Meera Bai stopped by our place in the evening. She invited us to the temple tonight, where a group of women sing wedding songs. The highlight of my day was the two and half hours I spent at the temple.

Hearing them sing, I thought a great deal about what it means for someone to be 'empowered.' Many of the women were puffing away at beedis, Durga Bai was rambunctiously loud, Meera was mischievously filling the pallus of other saris with sand. Did such actions empower them? All this while, many had veils shielding their faces if their spouse was present.

They were singing in preparation for a wedding coming up in the Chowki (another name for Shreeji ka Kheda)- the union of a peepul tree with God. Interestingly enough, their wedding songs revolved on a central theme: mother-in-law bashing.

I'll stuff her rotis with red pepper.
I'll break the drawstring in her lehnga.
I got water from the well; covered it for my saas, gave it to my sasur.
She'll sleep on a thin doliya [cot] made of glass [the idea being that it breaks].

I wouldn't have understood the harmony of weathered sopranos were it not for Suresh's mother explaining the lyrics to me. She sang in a rich, deep, base, made coarse from years of smoking. Now, she took a few puffs and passed the joint around.

As we left, the priest gave us a ball of sweet jaggery, also known as gud. It was exactly what I needed to relieve my craving for something ridiculously sweet. The walk back home was less than 100 metres, but we heard different music blaring from at least four other homes. Songs play a vital role in the Kheda. They break the silence of isolation. They lull us to sleep. And in some small way they empower expression that is otherwise taboo.

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