Monday, June 20, 2005

Cars

June 14

So, I’m back from Gandhigram after five days there, resting, and meeting members of the family who I have not previously encountered, including Krishnammal’s brother, a retired lawyer, and her sister, whom I had met a long time ago. Sathya was there, along with Gautami, her cousin, a doctor who works in South Carolina. Gautami has a daughter named Meera who is two days younger than my sister of the same name. When they were eight or nine years old, the two cousins wrote to each other, calling themselves Meera 1 and Meera 2.

It is a five-hour drive from Kuthur to Gandhigram, and we left, both coming and going, at four in the morning. (Appa wanted to leave at three, but luckily we didn’t, or I probably wouldn’t have bothered to go to bed.) The trip was made in the new LAFTI vehicle. There are currently three LAFTI-mobiles, not counting farm equipment, two jeeps (funded, I think, by CESVI), and this new car.

The car has an interesting history. In 1990, my parents raised money to buy LAFTI a van, the first of their vehicles, I think, except maybe a truck. It was a big, white van, with a seemingly unlimited capacity, if you include the roof (as you must) .In 1991, I was nearly thrown through the windshield head-first, I am told, when the vehicle stopped too quickly. In 1998, I got very sick in it on the way back from Madras.

Sometime around 2001, the van died. Since then, it has sat in a little spot by itself in the Kuthur Ashram, becoming almost like a shrine. When I visited in January, I think there were even flowers laid on it. They wouldn’t sell it without David’s permission, which both he and I found a bit ridiculous, as it belonged to LAFTI, and it was doing nobody any good sitting there, except for providing shelter for the neighborhood cats.

Now they’ve traded it in for a big, white Ambassador, which Jagannathan dislikes, as it is the sort of car that big government ministers and such travel in. He is mourning the loss of the van, which he calls his “elephant.” I think we need to paint the car bright green, or have the hostel kids decorate it, to make it look less stuffy. Of course, Appa couldn’t see that, but I don’t much like the current look of the car either, and it would certainly make it noticeable. Here’s a question I don’t know the answer to: Where do you buy gas in rural Tamil Nadu? There are no gas stations that I’ve seen, even in decently sized cities like Dindigul, and I’ve never been in the car when the driver decides to buy gas.

Anyway, Gandhigram is still gorgeous, with the flocks of crows at sunrise and sunset, and the little iguana-like creature who lives in one of the trees outside the worker’s home, and the bourganvillea twining across. But we need to get the roof fixed. The first day I was there, it rained heavily, and the water came in through holes in a roof that seems to consist mostly of holes. There was scarcely a dry spot anywhere, and I slipped and skidded across the smooth cement floor. The whole roof seems to be getting ready to collapse. Pieces of it have fallen and injured Krishnammal, as well as some of the hostel children. I was kept busy sweeping up bits of fallen roof tile. Jagannathan and Keithan built the structure in 1947, and I don’t think there have been any major repairs since, but the whole roof must be replaced. Krishnammal says it will cost five lakh rupees (about $12,500) but she won’t replace it until she gets her other houses built (which could mean all of India!) She is now trying to find money for windows and doors and plaster, which cost about 8,000 rupees a house ($200).

The money must come from somewhere, friends. Please remember us.

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