17 May 2009

From The Hippie Uncle

We are on the highway.

One more hour of bumpy jeep drive is to be covered.
The hot wind dries up the wet towel I have put on my face.

It is plain land with gentle undulation as far as the eyes could see. To break the monotony few trees, far from each other, dot the landscape. Its shade can barely protect a person from the scorching sun. Resilient trees. Not a soul in sight.

Somewhere in North Karnataka on a hot summer day. (40 C is cool)

We reach our destination, a cluster of thatched huts, big and small. Regional command centre for the social service organization.

Padmini is going to help them with their accounts and I escort her as this is her first trip. After the exchange of pleasantries with the top guy we are shown our respective huts.

Below this level you will be in misery. There is a cot with a thin mattress to sleep on; a net saves you from the mosquitoes; between the sunny sky and you there is protection by coconut thatch; three feet high asbestos sheets act as a wall and prevents the occasional rain water from entering your abode; since you are a nobody there is no need for a door! Water trickles and drips down from the tap in the open-to-sky bathroom. I am comfortable.

Glasses of water just evaporate through the millions of pores on my skin in no time.
The stifling heat and the spicy dinner deprive me of sleep till the early hours of the next morning.

At this centre there is good amount of human traffic. A lot of activities go on at this place. Health, educational, cultural and economical aspects of the populace are taken care of.

Mid day.

There is a lull in the human activities after the lunch. A full stomach and a cloudless summer sky have sent most of the staff to siesta indoor. A couple of guys sitting under an open hut are browsing the news paper.

You could see him coming.
A dot on the horizon becoming larger and larger.

He enters the camp with his son perched on his shoulders. The boy about five years old is polio affected. The man talks with the health worker who was reading the news paper. From the body language and facial expressions of the staff you understand that he is asked to come back on some other day. Without a murmur he turns and heads back on the same path to trek back to his village. As he goes past, you catch a glimpse.

He may be in his early thirties. Browbeaten by fate. Poverty, extreme suffering, helplessness have made the face calm; no sign of sadness; no disappointment. Not even a flinch. Total acceptance and dignity .He just turns and walks off towards the horizon; clad in a worn-out shirt and a pale, knee length dhoti he carries the burden of his life back home. Searing sun, blistering tar road, parched earth and the heat wave dries up the moisture deep inside the nostrils. No head gear, no dark glasses, no sun cream, no water bottle; and he walks into the wavy cauldren.. ….barefoot.

the same Himalayan monk?

-KLK aka Sakshi

16 May 2009

co huong

Co Huong, my maid, talks to me more than anybody else these days. The first day I met her, when she came to the interview dressed in a suit, I understood one in 20 words she said. now im up to 3 in 10. the pride she takes in her work easily puts me to shame. I’m not that passionate about anything, least of all work. She cares more about cleanliness and the house than I do… so im asking her to go home and sleep but she insists on cleaning something.

When im sick she offers some leaves plucked from her garden, or a piece of wood, some white paste… so I’m nature boy now. She feeds me vegetables and leaves that I’ve never seen, some plucked from my garden, experiments generously with Indian cooking and keeps me well fed.

When I come home drunk she’ll scold me and put some salt in my coconut water, which she knows I dislike. But the next morning she’ll bring green tea and watermelon juice to wake me up and threaten to pour chillis (plucked from my garden) in the next meal. Sometimes she really pours chillis, like a wicked joke. She once said that nobody in her place drinks… when we had a little beer party at my place, her sister was the beer dealer who delivered, and co huong took a splash. She later said she drinks only on occasions and 3 pints.

Co huong tells me she was born in 1960 (though she once claimed to be 55), in Hanoi. When you go from Saigon to Hanoi, ‘r’ becomes ‘z’ and ‘y’ becomes ‘z’, so there is quite a buzz as you go north, and co huong is very proud of it. She likes the 4 distinct seasons in Hanoi, for which she holds it higher than Saigon. In 1971, when she was 11, her dad was killed in the war and he wasn’t found until November of 2008. co huong grew up working in the rice fields and moved to pleiku where she now has three kids my age. The kids speak a mix of Hanoi and Saigon Vietnamese, and they help translate to English things she buys in the book of accounts.