Friday, January 29, 2010

My Manure

So the terms of my trade have changed. It was originally my mosquito net, my computer, and my dark green sweater, for a green turban cloth and a brickmaker’s uniform. But it has been decided that there will be no brickmaker’s uniforms; any old lunghi (a colored dhoti stitched together at the seam) will do.

So I sit down with Krishnammal to bargain. “Look,” I say, “You’re not keeping your end of the deal. Maybe I should take back the green sweater?”

“How about the computer?” she responds. She knows full well that she herself will never use the computer, but rather it will be a tool of enslavement for Gandhiji, who will be expected to make full use of its battery life to write while they travel together. But the green sweater is of immediate usefulness.

“I’ve got a better idea,” I suggest. “How about instead of a brickmaker’s uniform, you give me a truckload of manure for David’s vegetable gardens.”

“Done,” she says, and immediately calls for Bardi, who, while also the head of one of the boys’ hostels, when Amma is around seems to be some kind of cross between a personal valet, running waiter, and keeper of the phone and messages.. She says he is supposed to get my manure tomorrow.

Shortly thereafter, the bank manager of the Punjab National Bank in Thiruvarar came for a visit, bringing – oh, this is better! – an ugly gray sweater for Krishnammal, but at least something she will actually use. He has come to promote a program he is doing on organic agriculture (for which his bank will provide loans, etc.) He wants Amma to come inaugurate the program. Fine, she says, now I need money for cement. She notes that the land for the Kuthur headquarters was donated from a reserve fund of Canara Bank, and she wants funds from the Punjab National Bank for housebuilding. We also want to set up donations boxes in the bank branches. That portion of begging concluded (I don’t know whether successfully), I ostentatiously refuse to take a cup of coffee, and instead take a drink of water from the biosand water filter, and use the opportunity to explain how it works to him. And then I tell him that I share his interest in organic agriculture, and would he please donate a truckload of manure for my gardens?

A day goes by, into the next evening. We go to meet a family of a member of the legislative assembly (a well-respected leader of the Communist Party) to apologize that Krishnammal cannot attend the son’s wedding the next day. She is wearing the very sari that was given to her invitation. They are especially upset as the evening of the wedding, they were going to have a seminar on social problems, with many leading figures, with Krishnammal heading the bill, and the advertisements have all been printed. She manages to beg off, and will do a seminar with them the first week of February, and she will invite the luminaries herself.

On the jeep ride back, I chide Krishnammal that I haven’t received my manure yet. She is about to call Bardi to demand the delivery, when a call comes in for me. It is the bank manager! One truckload of organic manure is to arrive at LAFTI tomorrow. My begging has been a success.

Now I have to renegotiate my deal with Amma.


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