Welcome to My India

Susan Flint Rajkumar I have lived in India for over a decade, and have called many other parts of this world my home. I mingle with people of many different religions, skin colors, educational backgrounds, and life experiences. And I am happy to call them my friends. At age fifty, I decided to change the course of my life by taking one art class. Many things have changed, and how pleasing!

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Day 7 at the Rajkumar Home

Posted by Susan Rena Rajkumar on Monday, September 24, 2012 Under: Life in India

Today is day 7 at the Rajkumar home, and I awoke feeling very happy—a new feeling in such a long time. My husband also felt in good cheer. It seems that we getting excited about our new space. We are planning for a room that is passive solar and functions like a greenhouse with a stove for cold evenings. This way we will have a warm home—from both stoves. The house already feels warmer than the house we live in, as it retains the heat from the sun much longer with the thick walls.

Today is an important day. Our mason and helpers are pouring the concrete on the rooftop. They have already found the cracks and have carved them out and replaced them with a leak resistant additive to the cement—and tested it for leaks. There still are a few tiny ones, but the rooftop will catch this—two inches (2.5 cm) of cement and shale rock mix. We are rewarding our workers today with extras—nicer food and extra tea and biscuits (cookies) plus a monetary bonus for showing up on a “difficult” day. Three of our workers didn’t come. Our project manager promised that we would get the work done in time. “You are my brother and sister. I am looking out for you,” he said. And he truly is doing a good job at organizing and thinking and acting ahead so that everything is in good order.

Our well diggers worked on Sunday. They are contract work, so they make up their own hours. In two days they dug down 32 feet by hand. Two or three of the young men are digging in the well, while the two young women are on the top pulling out the dirt that they send up by pulley in a rubber basket, one unhooking and the other dumping. They send it down again, making a whistle sound just as the basket gets to the digger’s head-height.  

This morning I made the coffee and Raj served. I served the biscuits. Protest from the manager came, which Raj quickly said that we’d have tea again at 11:00, that they would need their energy (gained from the sugar and caffeine) since there were less workers. These are things that I don’t explain to people here—why I don’t drink tea or coffee. Coffee and tea is such a deep Indian tradition that I’m not interested in challenging. When asked, I just say it’s not my preference and move on to another topic of interest. I’ve heard that caffeine can block spiritual power (and alcohol may have the same effect on the spiritual body as well, plus other things.) When I use both caffeine and alcohol, I usually end up feeling like I wish I hadn’t taken it in, so I simply don’t—it’s a personal preference. When I have caffeine, I start talking and can’t stop. Sometimes my choice of words and topics could be better. I could say a lot more on this subject, but I’ll leave it for now.

I cooked over a wood fire in the back of the house with damp wood, as it had rained on Sunday. I washed all of the steel cups and shined/scrubbed the black cooking pot with my hand and sand. Sand is a great scrubber—almost better than steel wool or brillo pads. My hands are decorated with henna from yesterday’s birthday party at a nine-year-old’s home with her family and friends. I have deep sable-colored swirls and flowers stained into my palms by a deft 15-year-old who aspires to become a fashion designer. She asked me if I could help her with references. I told her that I might know someone, but suggested that she let God be her greatest guide—that he will provide everything that she needs for her life when she opens her heart to him completely. I told her that all of her needs will be taken care of.  “Yes, madam. I understand. Thank you, madam.” Her auntie overheard our conversation in passing, and smiling, said, “You will be married at age 20 anyway…” A lot of women in India study a university degree before marriage, and then do not use it afterwards. I have a new friend who has a Ph. D. in biochemistry, and is a farmer—she is the sole provider for her family. Anything happens with people’s careers and life direction today.

My young friend continues, “Madam, if you are Christian, why you wear the bindi?” The colored dot that many Indian women wear between their eyebrows, (or it sometimes looks fancy, with jewels and different colors and designs,) is mostly worn by Hindu women or Catholic women. I wear it because I like the feel of it between my eyebrows—covering the third eye. Sometimes I wear a big one when I go out. Here in India, people seem to have their own way of showing what religion they belong to. I’m not interested in showing what religion I belong to by wearing a specified “uniform.” Showing religiosity sometimes creates a division. I’m not interested in dividing people. Wearing bindi has a practical purpose and significance to me in a way that maybe Indian Christians don’t yet understand. Another example, I wear a silver medal that is Catholic, but I’m don’t practice Catholicism—the symbol makes meaning for my personal preferences, nothing more. And for some friends who might have concerns about my worshiping idols, not to worry. That’s not in the equation.

I’ve served a second round of tea to our helpers, and our lunch order was taken and paid for. One of our helpers goes down to the village below to the local tea-tiffin shop. We will be eating vegetable biryani today. This is a dish that originated in the Middle East, and was brought to India by the Moguls. The best biryani in the country is in Hyderabad, where they cook the lamb tender in yogurt with many different spices and flavorings. I don’t eat lamb much anymore, unless it is halal—which means the same as kosher—the animal has been prayed over before it was slain. This makes a difference when I eat it. No dogma for people who choose to eat meat; we all have our own path.

Our carpenter helpers are doing a great job building all of the new window frames. We have chosen to recreate the same style of window frame from the house’s original design. A lot of the old wood in this house is teak wood, so we will have a lot of the natural grains showing. Raj and I have decided to also let the terra cotta bricks in the ceiling be left natural. We will strip off all of the paint, as it doesn’t look like it sticks on very well anyway.  

My husband comes down from the rooftop and speaks to me with an excited voice, “they are half way through. It will only take two hours to set.” He is referring to the work schedule, and the rains that are not coming, but have threatened to pour. We prayed for “the right weather for our rooftop construction” after I had to move my fire underneath the roof because there was a slight drizzle of rain. The rain stopped, and the sun shines boldly in the Northern bordering mountains. Food has arrived, and we all sit in the back of the house eating rice biryani, fried egg, yogurt sauce, and vegetable curry with our right hands. This is India, after all!

In : Life in India 

Tags: "life in india" expat "susan rajkumar" artist paintings "day 7 at the rajkumar home" 

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