Now it is September, and I have returned to my village in the high mountains of the Western Ghats—India. My husband and I have reunited after two months. The visit to my family and friends was very rich and rewarding, and at the same time trying, as my dear Uncle Joe passed away while he was hiking in the Yolla Bolly mountain range in the Mendocino National Forest, Northern California.
These kinds of events allow for reflection, and then learning. One of my cousins reminded me of something very special. She decided that she would do her best to live more simply, in Uncle Joe’s honor and memory. I only wish that I had made more time to appreciate him more when he was alive—something that I keep having to learn whenever someone dear to me goes home to God. More reflection needed for this insight.
And I will bring one of my uncle’s qualities into my heart—better communication with my family and friends. I have already done this several months ago by writing my Susan of India blog for my family to read, but what I’ve realized was that now this blog is read by people from over ninety-one different countries! My family has expanded, I see.
My uncle, a scientist, read many books by the great writers, because he was intent on writing an ecology text book that offers all of the scientific information in a narrative format, rather than in dry facts and figures. His scientific writing is beautiful. Almost like poetry. Some of his letters to his family were written as prose—and I was lucky enough to receive one such letter two years ago for my birthday. I feel so grateful.
Two days before my arrival to India, my husband bought a house. He had wanted to wait until after my arrival, but since we had been searching for a home since December, and I had seen this house once from the street, I had commented, “Oh, I’d love to renovate that house and restore it to its original glory;” when my husband reminded me which house it was, I nearly shouted, “Buy it. Just buy it!” Actually, my mother was wondering why I was so loud. It was Skype, and the communication wasn’t so clear, the internet was slightly slow, and I wanted to be sure that he understood. Sometimes taking action helps move spiritual power in a positive direction. The “Just do it” saying was coined by a spiritual leader from Germany in the 1950’s. I’ve found that by believing that everything will turn out for the Good helps all situations when taking decisive action.
And here I sit in my new home, surrounded with peeling paint from the ceiling, rafters, and walls. The boards are moldy, and some of the walls are about to come down. I am very happy. I’ve never had my own home before. Not even a couch (or divan). We have 7 helpers. Four women are moving the sand and shale rock that were dumped off by a truck. I listen to the sound of a hammer and a hand saw, the voices of our site manager, “Blah blah blah Rajkumar sir, blah blah blah…” Not to be disrespectful about the language, it’s just that I don’t speak Tamil yet. Sometimes I understand a word that is in common with Malayalam.
My husband is off to Trivandrum, some 600 kilometers away, to see a client. And so I am here to make sure that tasks are done properly, or in the right order. Not that I know a lot about construction, but I certainly can tell if people are doing a good job. Mostly, I am sitting in the 8 foot by 8 foot room that will be my bedroom when it is finished. No attached bathroom. Actually, there is no bathroom in this house. Instead of building one in this main house, we will build a separate wing on the other side of a small strip of land. We will make a courtyard, so to speak, that I will fill with vegetable plants and flowers. We also will have a small glass room with a very dark tile floor, to create a passive solar environment, so that we can heat our home in an eco-friendly way.
On the second day after my arrival, I was pulling weeds with Aisha, our neighbor. We cleared the strip of land. I laugh at this, because it seems that, aside from tending to my Uncle’s funeral and clearing his home, I mostly did weeding, cleaning, heavy lifting, and cooking. So I felt that I was fit for the task. On the following day, while we were waiting to get our workers in order, Aisha and I stripped paint off of the walls. There were many coats of whitewash—some colored fuscia, red, blue, blue-green or light pink. We finished one room out of five, and now that there is a different focus, we will wait until the house is rewired to use power tools.
Yesterday, the water diviner came. People in different countries call this appointed person different names, such as water witching or water douser. I didn’t watch him until the end, where he threw some plant cuttings on the ground. He said that we have water forty feet down, and then marked the spot with a stick. The well digger was also present, and so he will begin his task shortly.
This little home is one third of the original house size. It was sold in parts, and the other owners tore their part down to build a new house. My first impression when I came here was that it felt very nice. Cozy and comfortable. The size is about 900 square feet. Not to worry, less house to clean! I have always liked to live in small houses—I grew up in a 600 square foot home. At the time and for many years I felt that it was inadequate. But now, as I feel that I have always been provided with everything that I need for my life, my view has changed. I am sure that we will find a way to create space-economy, and have less “stuff” to deal with. The larger part of the house contains two rooms devoted to the kitchen. One is the firing room and storage, and the other will have a modern sink and running water and a small table for breakfast.
It is said that Sai Baba (the Guru) once came to this home for a visit. The original owner built this house in 1952, father of eleven boys and one girl, all born in this home. Our site manager went to school with one of the sons of the original owner. There was a lot of love in this house, and the thick mud walls exude it if you are sensitive enough to feel it.
One change that we will make to it, is the north-facing entrance, a direction in Feng Shui to be inauspicious, and “crazy making” to the inhabitants. Interestingly, the owner of this house became disenchanted and fed up with this village, built a huge new house down valley, and moved his family.
It begins to rain today, and I have three plastic tarps to spread on the rooftop. Aisha and I go up to the roof. “Madam…” she calls out to me as I am hoisting myself up. There is not yet a stairwell. I’m wearing a sari, as are all of the construction women on our team. I walk carefully, as the tile roof is not very strong after the crossbeams were exposed to water. I pray for sunshine, which came out after I spread the tarps and secured them with stones. We waited until the site manager walked around the corner of the building and then we jumped off of the roof into sand. Normally, in America, there might have been some country-girl hooting and hollering happening at this stage, but in India (and many other places in the world) people are more poised, and regain composure fairly quickly after having some child-like fun. I followed suit, and let the country-girl inside of me hoot in my head. It’s like this sometimes, living an American experience inside my head while being molded and shaped by a different culture in my immediate surroundings.
I went to see the progress in the front bed room. There is a mason, two carpenters, and the site manager. Their task is to remove the rotten beams from the ceiling without letting the tiles fall. Then they are to replace the beam with new and strong ones. They told me that there was a beam that wasn’t rotten, and they wanted to leave it, but it is not long enough, and the plan was to replace all beams with full length beams that would span across the room (the other beams were short, and were being held with a piece of small molding-wood underneath.) It didn’t make sense, so I asked them to use the used beam to replace a shorter beam, and replace the longer beams with new ones. And I finished my sentence with, “as my husband wishes.” It’s funny how these things seem to add “credibility” even though this is our home. Hmm…this will change one day, where men and women will be viewed as different equals and there will be no need to have to speak this way in order to get something done.
Today is a new day—day three. My husband is still away. His journey is delayed due to an “All India Bus Strike.” This means that people are protesting the price of fuel, which is 73.38 INR per litre (or USD 5.10 per gallon.) My husband is returning this afternoon by train so that he will be able to travel safely and avoid the strike.
My site manager took me to the neighbor’s house across the street to see her 40 foot well. I was also curious how much can be seen from their perch on the hill. We Westerners are concerned with privacy, but also, I’m concerned with how much my dogs can see. Two of them sometimes get loud if they see people. I want a quiet environment, and will do my best to provide a peaceful environment for all concerned, despite having four dogs. Hema, the neighbor, made me a cup of flavored hot milk (Horlick’s) and we engaged in small talk in her kitchen. I promised her that my Tamil would improve so that she would understand me better. She said that she didn’t speak any English, but she sounded great—complete sentences. They own a tea estate, and they also grow coffee. She’s a housewife. I reassured her that it is a good occupation, being a housewife. She said, “Thank you, madam.” And then I continued to tell her how many women in the West consider it a “luxury” to be able to stay home. Of course, that’s my experience. Many of my Western friends have set their lives up in a way that they do not have to work full time, and they appreciate the home time with family.
Little by little everything is coming together. I’m amazed at how well the workers are progressing with their tasks. They are mostly using hand tools, with the exception of a hand saw to cut through the thick boards. It’s impressive.
[1 gallon = 3.7854118 litres. USD $ 1.3499 per liter]
In : Life in India
Tags: painting art artist expat india "susan rajkumar"