Monday, June 20, 2005


It is midday now, and blisteringly hot, with a blinding sun glaring down upon the tan, sandy courtyard of the ashram. I have taken refuge in the marginally cooler office, grateful for the large water cooler there. David’s “World’s Most Beautiful Cow” delivered a calf last night. It is the same mid-brown as its mother, the size of a medium-sized dog. When I went to see it this morning it was lying down in the shade, its new-born, knobbly legs tucked under it, watched over protectively by the cow, who was looking at it and chewing her cud complacently. (When Amma came and told me there was a baby in the cow shelter, I had a brief vision of Jesus in the manger.)

I realize that I have not written about the project about which Krishnammal has been talking most frequently. (Maybe David Willis wrote something about it, but I can’t remember or check. The Internet has not been working here for three days. No one knows what is wrong, and when I ask whether this is a frequent occurrence, no one understands the question. Oh, I have just been informed that it does happen frequently) This project has to do with getting wood for baking bricks.

Through Amma’s incessant efforts, the government now provides some land for Dalit families, but it is never cultivable, and is always overgrown with thorns. The people never have time to clear it during the growing season, or motivation to do so during the hot season, when it is difficult to work at all. The land just lies there, useless. It was Krishnammal’s idea to organize the village people to cut the thorns and use them for firewood for the bricks. She pays each worker, and feeds them all lunch every day. In this way, the people get food and money, cultivable land, and wood for the building of their own houses. It never fails to amaze me how these schemes work.

A bit of news about some villages that David and I wrote about in January: In Pappakovil, the Dalit fish-worker village attached to Akkarapettai, they are still trying to move the village to a better location, farther inland. They are having difficulty finding a place and getting government permission. In Aathur, the village of the miraculous bricks, they still need to build more bricks, but they have started fighting among themselves, perhaps with political motivations. Amma has refused to help them until they stop quarreling. I would like to visit Nagapattinam, but I have not been able to do so yet. Krishnammal leaves often in the new car to visit officials.

There is a new photo of Krishnammal up in the office. It shows her in a rather un-Amma-like pose, with her fist in the air, looking defiant. In the corner of the framed picture, there is a photo of Jagannathan wearing dark glasses, sitting on the ground, spinning. Perhaps a reality check on the rest of the photo.


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