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Jasmine Dispatch

Mother, Sister... India
May 20, 2000

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 Up to my knees in a mushy rice field!
Caption
It was nearing noon and I was walking through the ancient Vijayanagar Kingdom ruins trying to get a feel for what life in India had been like during the height of this well-known empire. While my mind was captivated by some of the largest monolithic idols in India, my heart was drawn to a nearby field where women were bent over, working the fields. I dropped back from the group that was approaching a temple just ahead, and tried to imagine the lives that these working women led. I could not. I was so lost in thought and wonder that I hadn't even noticed them staring back at me. Embarrassed, I waved. Surprisingly, they waved back with even more excitement.

The next thing I knew, I was sloshing through the muddy goop of a rice paddy (for the first time in my life) on my way to make some new friends. As I stood in the middle of a bright green field of tall grasses, I was surrounded by women in colorful sarees performing what looked like back-breaking labor. They held on to my arms and guided me through the field showing me how to pick and pull weeds from the greens so they would grow properly. I pointed to my back and scrunched up my face in pain, trying to communicate that this seemed like hard labor to me. In solidarity, they all nodded strongly in agreement. Rubbing their backs and their shoulders they explained in Telegu how it was very hard work. We bonded.

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Having fun out in the fields
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They posed for pictures and burst into laughter at the sight of themselves on the camera screen. We then retreated to the shade of a small creek to rinse our feet and talk for a bit. There was a group of about 25 in all, but one of the older ladies, Arvinda, told me the most. Red-mouthed, from the pan (a sort of chewing tobacco) that she held in her jaw as she spoke, toothless, with leathery brown skin from having been outside in this field all her life, animated and very spunky; she told me about her day.

Luckily, I was with my friend Devdutt who was able to translate.

"I go to the field to use the restroom, to fetch water and to get grass to feed the cow. I clean the pots from the night before and cook breakfast for my husband and children."

Her hut has no bathroom or running water. The thirty minute hike into the field starts her daily routine every morning. When she returns home, she uses mud and water to wash the dishes, scraping them with her hands, because soap is a luxury.

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The local stream also doubles as a laundromat
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"We come here by 5am before the sun gets too hot and we work in the fields until the sun is high. Then we go home to cook lunch. I eat and rest before I have to go, another time, to the well for water. When I return I make cow-dung cakes for fuel. "

Cow dung cakes? That's no glorious task. First Arvinda chases the cow around, scooping up its poop with her hands and loading it into a clay pot. Then she makes small patties, like hamburgers (yummy!), and lays them out in the sun to dry and harden. They keep a fire going strong, so she uses them in her stove.

"After this I sweep and clean the house, wash the dishes, and cook dinner," Arvinda continues.

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It was a long walk back to the village
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Cleaning the house means stooping over the dirt floor of her hut and brushing it with a bundle of twigs tied together with straw, taking the clothes down to the stream to be washed by hand, and returning in time to wash the lunch dishes in preparation for dinner.

Chapati, (an Indian flat bread similar to tortillas), dal (lentils) and rice are on the menu, each of which also require a certain amount of spice grinding and other labor intensive processes. I sat talking with this group of women for at least an hour, marveling at their ability to endure this work, day after day. We talked about school and husbands, about traveling and writing. They were amazed at the opportunity I have to be able to see the world. Most of them have never left the confines of their villages. Yet, despite these differences, I found that they were not distant or so far from many of the women I've known in my life. They were real women who had dreams like me, who had feelings and emotions like me. They were mothers concerned about their daughters' futures. They were wives wanting to love and be loved by their husbands. They were the backbone of their society, and yet they were illiterate, uneducated, and bound to a life of servitude.

Vocabulary

captivated - extremely interested by; paying close attention to
monolithic - referring to sculpture, large and imposing in size, often made of one huge stone
solidarity - the state of being together or unified
confines - borders or limits

After sharing their stories, it was time for the women to head back to the village, a forty-five minute walk away. So we bid each other farewell, washed our feet and ankles in the stream and went our individual ways. Arvinda turned back to wave, laughing something in Telegu which made all the ladies giggle before they were out of sight.

It was an interesting beginning, and I was longing to know more. Later, Shasheev and Kazabani helped me dig a little deeper. They shed light on the darker sides of Indian tradition; telling about some of the social woes facing women in India, like dowry deaths, bride burning, and the importance of baby boys over baby girls. Meet Shasheev in Love and Marriage and stay tuned as we get to know the Indian Motherland through her Mothers.

Jasmine

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...jasminehamlett@bigfoot.com
 

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Kavitha - Good For What Ails You
Team - Making a Difference: Beavers Build Them, So Why Shouldn't We?

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