Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Auspicious Day

Well, plans have changed again. It being wedding season (in the south; in the north it is usually May), Krishnammal has kept me around to do some wedding begging (to help raise funds for more houses, since her very presence is considered a great honor), and instead of heading for LAFTI’s headquarters in Kuthur, tonight we will go to Tiruchy, and then to Gandhigram! My home!! Needless to say, I am quite pleased with this plan, but I also know that the plan could – and likely will - change, so first things first.

Since the plan had us leaving for wedding #1 this morning at 6:00 a.m., I was up and dressed and ready to go by 5:00 (knowing full well that we wouldn’t leave before 7:30; and sure enough, I was off by five minutes, as we left by 7:35. As I write this, it is 3:55 in the afternoon, we are supposed to leave for Tiruchi by 4:00; I told Krishnammal we wouldn’t leave before 6:00 p.m. despite her insistence; and sure enough, she is in the bedroom taking a nap; the car and driver and nephew who are supposed to take us are nowhere to be found, despite our having dropped the nephew off to pick up the car at 11:00 A.M. this morning. If there is anyone interested in how I get the time to write these posts, this is it.)

At any rate, I sit down on the divan at 5:00 A.M., pulling my legs up under me in yogic position (to avoid the mosquitos; I believe this is the true origin of the original yogic posture), and am still a bit groggy and nodding. Krishnammal had been up since 2:00. A.M. Swami David visualizes a copy of coffee appearing in front of him and hold ups his righthand with thumb across the palm, and, sure enough, the next moment there is a nice, steamy cup of Nescafe, that is, a quarter teaspoon of Nescafe mixed with six ounces of boiled milk. Om Shantih, Shantih, Shantih.

Next, it is time for computer yoga. Krishnammal wants some more letters and appeals to appear. The magic netbook is produced, and, before one could chant the Shiva Purana, a letter to Guruji, he of Coimbatore and Holy Feet, is produced, meant obliquely to remind him of his promise of 1,000 doors for the new houses.

Now the mosquitos are out in full force. I squash one against my leg, which leaves a bright red stain on my nice white wedding pants (they are the same handspun trousers I wear every day.) But they seem to enjoy Krishnammal more, and she has designs on my mosquito net.

“Of course you can have it,” says Swami David, “What are your other desires?” Before we know it, we have completed a trade: my netbook (the one I am presently writing on) and the mosquito net, for a brickmaker’s uniform, and a light green turban. (I insist if we are going to start a housing movement, an end to the mudhuts, the brickmakers need a turban of an identifiable color, so I chosse the one from my Friends of LAFTI business card. She is soon on the phone to headquarters arranging the turbans.) I think I got the better of the deal, so I throw in my dark green sweater (she currently has an atrocious one in purple and black, which, with her Princeton tiger-striped woven headcovering, like an oversized potlholder tied around the neck, makes her quite a sight (and no, sigh, I haven’t a picture.) I think she is aware that without me, the magic netbook doesn’t produce letters and appeals, and I doubt very much that, even if I wear my brickmaker’s uniform and light green turban, I am likely to produce many bricks. Later, Swami David’s magic green bag produces 1,001 rupees for her to use in sacrifice to the voracious petrol gods.

It is 6:30 A.M. now and the phone keeps ringing. The landlord with whom all the dickering has taken place for the last three months, has relinquished his 22 acres, payment has been made, and he wishes to convey his thanks. This is followed by a phonecall from one of the landlords who was directly culpable in the deaths of the 44 Dalit women and children in 1968, saying that his wife is sick, and will Krishnammal please come and comfort her? I am sure she will when we get to the area in an expected three days.

The mosquitos having waned, an itinerant musician appears at our gate. He, heavily gray-bearded, is bedecked in a yellow turban and is playing a nadaswaram, a long, double-reeded instrument used for auspicious occasions (and traditionally by snake-charmers before they decided they needed something easier to handle). And quite well, I might add. I give him five rupees from the magic green bag, and he agrees to allow me to take his picture. (For readers of my blog, note that when I get back to the states, I will post photos that go with each posting. One picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps suggesting I don’t have to write quite so much.)

Finally, we are away into commuter traffic to Chennai. It seems that all the cows and water buffaloes have the same idea. Then we reach the beginning of the toll road. Sometimes we pay, sometimes we don’t, it doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason (well, maybe rhyme). Sometimes we are waved straight through, other times Muttukumar shows them last week’s receipt, and sometimes they extract 30 rupees. Go figure.

We find the wedding hall at 9:15. A magnificent place! We have missed the ceremony (ended around 9) but we can see that no fewer than 18 Brahmin priests officiated at the marriage ceremony of two Dalits. Unthinkable even ten years ago. But I think they have found a new, ready market for their products and services, so it is just good business. We are immediately passed to the front of the reception line – there must be multiple pictures with Krishnammal, and someday they will look back at their wedding pictures and wonder who that fat light-skinned beggar is. We do some begging as people rush up to Krishnammal to kiss her feet.

Although the main reception is this evening (we won’t attend), we are ushered into a traditional Tamil wedding feast. Long tables are laid out, and banana leaves placed in front of us. Then, one at a time, brown-uniformed kitchen staff come around with metal pails, each containing a different spicy or sweet thing, vegetable sambar, rice, yoghurt, rasam (hot pepper soup), and one signifies one is finished by folding the leaf over. I hope there are some hungry cows nearby.Sathya likes the little clay pots in which the kurds came, so she starts to gather them up to take home. (She says they will just be thrown away otherwise; I take two for my kids.)

This posting is an experiment. We actually left at 5:05 P.M., so I won the non-wager. Now I am writing in the car on our six-hour ride south. But I want to examine the scenery, so the Auspicious Day is going to have to be split into two parts.


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