Friday, February 24, 2012

Life in Chandelao

Two of Lin's pupils doing after-school chores
The weather so far in Chandelao has been wonderful. Every day is dry and clear. We have seen only a few wispy clouds, and at night the sky is crystal clear and blazing with stars and planets. The humidity is uniformly low – 15-25% – so anything we wash is dry in a few hours at most – even Lin's hair. The temperature goes in waves, so for a few days the daytime high gradually increases, then it decreases. However, each peak and trough is higher than the previous one. 10 days ago we had an early morning temperature of 8 C (46 F). With the low humidity and no heating, it was bone-chilling, and we kept our thick sweaters on all day. This Monday was our hottest day so far – 32 C (90 F) – and very pleasant. Now, it is starting to get cooler again, but not as cool as last week. In summer (May, June) it reaches 45 C (113 F) or higher most days. Then, the hotel guests may opt to spend the night on the rooftop or in the courtyard. We are glad we will not be here then.

The greenhouse project and vegetable growing
Some of you may be wondering why, with this hot weather, we need a greenhouse. Although in the winter the greenhouse will keep the temperature up and allow a longer season for warm weather crops, the main reason is to keep the moisture in and the humidity high. Water is in short supply, and with the low humidity and dry air, any water applied to plants evaporates from the ground very quickly. In addition to losing precious water, this also increases the salinity of the soil, eventually making it unusable. This happened near the huge Indira Gandhi canal. When it was first built, the fields were constantly flooded with water and were highly productive for a few years. Now many have become unusable because of high salinity.

Farmer cutting fresh spinach
A few days ago, Sandy visited a vegetable farm to gain some insights into local cultivation methods and what grows well – and sells well – here. It was an interesting visit. The farmer was a real expert in producing the maximum from his two acres, with judicious irrigation and applications of cow and goat manure. He produces 4!! crops from each patch of ground every year. In winter spinach, cabbage, and cauliflower, in the spring and autumn tomatoes, eggplants, and chili peppers, and in the summer various varieties of hot-weather greens. They have abundant water from a deep well, and in the summer the water does double duty. First it is used to fill a large swimming pool which he charges the locals a few rupees for using, then at night he runs some water out of the pool to water the crops. My colleague Hannah and I fell upon the spinach crop, as it was the first fresh green vegetable we had seen for some weeks – the spinach we eat is always cooked in butter with potato or paneer – and very tasty it was. We thought we had found a source of delicious organic vegetables until we asked whether they had any problems with caterpillars and other pests. The farmer then produced a bottle of an extremely noxious pesticide banned for use in the US except in the most extreme cases!

Our friend Deepu making chai using
the most reliable local utility -- wood.
We have plenty of water here at the moment, and when the big underground tank starts to get low, a tractor pulling a large, colorfully painted tanker arrives to refill it. The water in the tanker comes from the local lake, where ducks and buffalo swim. It is left to settle in the tank and is perfectly clean for washing, showering and laundry. For drinking water, we go to the kitchen and refill our bottles with “Aquaguard” filtered water. Aquaguard, the ubiquitous brand of water purifier in India, is also used for washing vegetables and cooking, and it is obviously pretty effective as we have so far managed to avoid any stomach upsets.
Electricity is intermittent and provided by the government grid – sometimes – and by the hotel's diesel generator – sometimes. They use 5-amp round pin plugs, familiar to us from our British childhoods. We are always careful to make sure that our computer and other battery-powered gadgets are plugged in to charge when the electricity is on. This led to a minor disaster last week when the generator was switched on early in the morning. A short circuit sent a very high voltage through the hotel system and burned out three computer power packs, and a television set, not to mention causing a small electrical fire in Hannah's room. No lasting damage was done however, and the computer repair shop in Jodhpur got some unexpectedly welcome business.
Television – none, not that we have ever watched it anyway.
Internet – We have a clever little dongle that plugs into the computer and makes a cell phone call to a computer center somewhere. It is surprisingly efficient and amazingly cheap. It has allowed Sandy to complete the rewriting and reorganization of the Chandelao web site at, as well as to post our interminable blog entries.

The beharupiya as Rama
The Beharupiya
For the past few evenings, there have been crowds of screaming children following a tall, thin, strangely dressed man through the streets. He is a beharupiya – an itinerant street performer and comedian, with many disguises. The first time we saw him he was dressed all in yellow as a holy man; the next night, with a bow and arrow, as Rama, a major Hindu deity; the following day draped in a pink sari he was a female milk vendor in full Rajasthani costume with a milk pot glued to his/her head; and finally he portrayed a witch. He goes from door to door, shouting out the lines of a chant to which the children respond. Some of the residents give him money or food. He looks as if he enjoys his job, and his presence in the village for a few days is a source of great excitement.

Cricket and children's games
Ever a popular game since the Brits introduced it here, cricket is played in the dusty streets or on a field near the lake, where we have been invited to join in games. The decorated bats look home-made and the players use a tennis ball, but the young men and boys are enthusiastic and focused, even without white clothes and wickets. Just knowing Tendulkar's name has led us into lengthy conversations about how well India has played against Sri Lanka, how exciting the matches are down under, and which countries have no good players.

Hopscotch, Chandelao-style
The children play a game similar to hopscotch in squares they mark out in the dust. Marbles are another favorite, and Lin's silk scarf was even used for a demonstration of Blind Man's Buff.

Morning and evening, drums and bells summon us to prayers at the local Hindu temples, where an elderly priest can be paid to say a “puja” for friends and family, with rituals involving rice, spices and pieces of coconut. He picks a suitably propitious moment according to astrological charts and the dates and times of birth of those involved.

Brass bands and loud drumming accompany wedding parties through the streets, men solemnly accompanying the unsmiling groom on his horse, ladies in colorful saris and children dancing and singing songs of welcome.

In the craft center, ladies and girls sing quietly as they sew, stitch, and thread beads and bells. They like popular songs from romantic Bollywood movies as well as traditional songs from the Ramayana.

Spoonbills at the local lake

There are endless opportunities for taking photographs in the community. Apart from the little children who assume every visitor has a camera and wants to take pictures of them, the ladies' colorful clothes, the clear bright light of day and soft evening colors at sunset, the warm glow of pink sandstone walls and fences, the seemingly fearless hawks and owls, parakeets, herons, spoonbills, and hoopoes, tempt even the most inept photographer.
The local ladies are happy for us to photograph them elegantly carrying pots of water from the well, bundles of wood from the fields, bowls of building rubble, or cow and goat droppings on their heads.
An invitation to a villager's house involves an introduction to all the family members of at least three generations, a shy willingness to be photographed, and an expectation that we will want to take pictures of the family goat, cow, buffalo, cat and puppy, as well. They let us take pictures of their stoves, their grinding stones, haystacks and dung heaps, charpoy beds and household shrines. Actions that might be considered intrusive in other cultures seem welcome here.

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