Villlage Vignettes (Part 2) – Seasons in the Sun

Like Shashi Kapoor in Deewar and his ‘maa’, we in Bangalore always knew whatever else people in other cities may have, we had ‘the weather’. And it is not a rhetoric, the weather in Bangalore IS to kill for. But every now and then I miss the joys of changing seasons of my village when I was a child.

Take winter. If you were not-poor enough to afford a couple of blankets for the  family you were ready to relish the bounty winter had to offer. As far back as I can remember we had more than two blankets (  those hair, prickly ones, yes), we also had a warm, cozy red razai. We brothers and sisters would fight for it, maybe three or four of us managing to crawl under it. It was a challenge stirring out of it in the morning to get ready for school, but I had something else to tempt me out. Grandma would get up very early to boil the paddy in a big brass handi just outside the house to convert the normal paddy into a boiled variety that would yield the parboiled rice ( as against the unboiled ‘atap’ chaal  eaten in the north and the south .) I would wrap myself in a cotton shawl and sit by grandma’s side as she tended the fire, pushing some twigs and dry leaves into the chula periodically. Soaking in the warmth of the crackling fire was bliss. Grandma would put in a piece of arvi or yam, both grown within our home compound, into the fire. The roasted tuber would taste divine, giving out a hot whiff of its delicious flavor when split to be eaten. Then slowly, the red ball of sun would peep out from beyond the paddy fields and move up across the sky, turning slivery from red, and then you could feel the warm rays on your skin. Slowly everyone would get up and the day would have begun.

None of us at home had a watch. And there wasn’t a clock in the house.   We would note the position of the shadow of the thatched roof in the courtyard to decide that it was time for school. Mom would have cooked some rice with a potato in it in a junior-size handi ( known as ‘ badha’ on Odia)  on a  portable chula using jute reeds as fuel ( They catch fire easily and burn out fast.) After ‘ badha-bhaat’ and ‘ alu chakata’, our next meal would be the proper lunch at 4pm when we returned from school. No mid-day meals back then.

When school was closed for holidays the routine would get more exciting. There would be a fire of dry leaves lit under   the mango trees to protect the blossoms from frostbite. We would spread a chatai near the fire with a daala  ( small container woven from bamboo stripes) of mudi and our homework. Some days we would move over to a friendly neighbour’s yard with a berry tree,  to soak in the sun and pick up the ripe berries that fell to the ground.  Later in the day we would go to the fields where paddy plants would be getting cut, bundled and carried home. Some paddy stalks with grain  would fall off on the field. We kids would pick them up and when we had collected enough, we would sell it to the village grocer and organize a feast with the money.

My Village 5

Winter nights are long and so all kinds of entertainment events would be planned in the season. There would be jatra and there would be kirtan. The jatras were whole-night affair and I wasn’t allowed to go to the nearby villages to watch them, only the one in our own  village staged during the holi. The two or three jatras I remember were thematically rich and dramatically exciting. One was about  Kadru, Vinita and the birth of Garuda as step-brother to Arun, the sun. One was called ‘ Nastik’ and was a story of an atheist whom Lord Krshna put through a number if ordeals and yet he won’t change  his belief.  There was another titled ‘ Jogajanma Ravan’ written by the legendary Raghunath Das and it  portrayed Ravan as a learned Brahmin, an ardent Shiv-bhakt and a flawed hero.  I kind of regret that I did not catch more of them, as he character of jatra has changed totally in modern times and has become absolutely crass.

Summers were blistering hot, but a lot of fun as I remember. First of all I could go to the big canal a km or so from our home in the evening for a second bath, among the village boys. Then we would come back in wet gamchhas and dry ourselves on a culvert under a kadamba tree, near our school. The elders would be sitting there too, gossiping and talking village politics, which I would unobtrusively soak in.  Sleeping at night would be challenge as the rooms in our kachcha house with a thatched roof did not have windows.  Some of us would sleep in the courtyard, fanning ourselves furiously with palm-leaf hand fans. In the hot afternoons sometimes I would sleep in the cowshed which would be a few degrees cooler, maybe because of the cattle urination.

My grandpa had built a small outhouse where he used to host the village guests. The ameen and his assistant who came for measuring land for regularizing records would stay for weeks with us in this house and food would be sent to them by my mom. Grandpa thought he was being modern when he incorporated some kind of windows in the walls of this outhouse. The device was ingenious I must admit. While making the walls with wet clay he had placed trunks of banana plant at selected spots. In due course, the clay dried and much later the trunk rotted, leaving out circular holes in the wall which acted like windows. It was just one large room actually, but definitely cooler due to the ventilation. Grandpa would take his afternoon nap in this room and would drag me along with him. The ideas was to make sure I did not go out in the hot sun to play marbles with naughty kids. This is also the room where mangoes from our trees would kept on a bed of sand for natural ripening without use of carbolic. My sleep would be interrupted by the combined onslaught of grandpa’s snoring and the strong smell of ripening mangoes and I would slip out of the room, gently unlatching the makeshift door made from mango wood planks.  I would meet boys from the other side of the canal in the hollow of a dried out pond under an old thick-trunked mango tree. These sessions with older, more worldly-wise naughty boys would deliver me my first lessons in sex education. When the sun would go down a little we would start our game of marbles. When I returned home the mango eating ceremony would be on. The mangoes from the most fecund of our tress were small in size but very sweet. Many dozens of these would have been placed in water in a tub to cool. After everyone got up from their siesta, grandma would start cutting them into slices in a ‘ paniki’ / ‘ bonti’ as everyone sat around her waiting for their turn to get a slice of the delicious fruit.

The morning bath would be in our pond made doubly exciting by the prospect of two kind of catches. Firstly, the tree of super tasty mangoes that I talked about stood next to this pond and tree-ripened juicy mangoes from it would fall into the pond at night. It was my daily adventure to walk around inside the pond and plunge under-water when I  could feel a mango under my feet. While doing this I would occasionally find a mid-sized parsay fish under one of my feet.  I would have to act fast and hold it immobile under the foot and then bend down under-water to catch it in my hand.  I would at best catch two or three such fish on the best of days, but mom would make a curry of whatever I caught nevertheless.

The formal fishing event of the village would also take place in the summer. There was one big pond in the village which was a community pond. In summer it would dry up considerably. The villagers would take turns in throwing the water out from the pond over a bund into the fields using a wooden bucket kind of device held by ropes at both end. The process would start around 2 am or so at night and by early morning the pond would be nearly dry. At the deep end there would be rohu, katla, bual, chital etc which would be caught by experts and would be put in a common pool for distribution among all families according to some commonly agreed formula. As the water receded, the shallow end would be a marshy mud where you would get lowly fish like singi and chang, black in colour, reinforcing the much-too-common human colour prejudice.  These were free for all and catchers were keepers. We boys would take our chances here, just taking care not to get stung by a singi.

Summer is also when I planted pumpkin seeds and watered the brinjal patch near our well. A hollowed out coconut trunk was used as a channel into which I poured buckets of water which I hauled from the well. There were ridges of brinjal plants with little channels dug out between ridges for water to flow from one ridge after it was filed to another. It was tiring work but gave me a good appetite for dinner.

Now the rains. Truth be told, the rainy season can be a bit of pain in the villages. The biggest challenge was where to shit. We never had a toilet. But in the summer there were acres and acres of open field, lying fallow after harvest, and it was a pleasure doing it in the open, with cool breeze blowing. The ladies often went out in a group, a bit later in the evening, catching up on gossip over extended sessions. But the rains left very little options except some spot behind a shrub or in the bamboo grove. The ground was sloshy and you didn’t know what you were stamping on, and most places available for business stank.  There was also the fear of snakes and all kinds of insects.

Getting wet was okay, but I would also slip and fall most days while returning from school. I don’t remember how many pairs of shorts I had, but I remember  sometimes mom would have to put a pair of wet shorts on two bamboo sticks over cinders in the chula, while I sat naked waiting for the shorts to dry.

But once one was inside the house it was fun to watch the rain roll  down our thatched roof in thick torrents and fill the courtyard with water in no time, upon which we would float paper boats. Occasionally it would hail and we would catch the hail-stones rolling down the thatch in our palms and slurp them with relish. I never saw ice or tasted ice-cream in my village. This was the closest.

One year, our village was mildly flooded and it was water all around. We had to wade through knee-deep water to go anywhere. Uncle made a raft out of banana plant trunks tied together and we could use a bamboo stick as an oar to sail over our land examining the damage to the paddy crop.

Though we studied in our textbooks that there were six seasons or ritus, apart from these three, we only were aware of sharat or autumn because of the Durga Puja. Vasant or spring was short-lived and  Hemant we were never aware of. But the cycle of seasons -  turn, turn , turn – as they did, not only made us aware of nature more intensely, they also somehow made us feel more alive.  In comparison, Bangalore’s unchanging weather makes me feel frigid at times; though I must admit, it’s only occasionally; and for the most part it is something I feel extremely lucky to be enjoying.

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