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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Letters Home

Posted by Susan Rena Rajkumar on Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Dear family and friends,

Wishing you all warm greetings of Love and good wishes for the New Year 2012.

Some of you have not yet heard of the details about moving our four dogs and three cats from the ocean level Kerala to the Nilgiri Mountain range—some seven-thousand feet above sea level (2000 meters.) What is a cat from Kerala going to do with a bunch of monkeys in the neighboring trees?

But to begin this story, I must preface it with the disclaimer that some of you may not want to know all of the details...and so I will keep this as brief as possible...after all, less information is sometimes better.

Our story begins in Kerala. In 2010, my husband and I both expressed the desire to move somewhere away from the city. Being a country girl, I added a few stipulations so that he could have a better idea of my “dream” location.

  1. It had to have a low population density. I smile at this, because India isn't a very large country to house 1.4 billion people. People are rarely alone...anywhere.

  2. It must be “above snake line.” Snakes are ok, and I believe that eventually snakes will evolve into symbiotic poison-less friends, but I don't feel like gardening with vipers, at this point.

  3. It must be country-side, fairly quiet, and a fair distance from a “minor city” (at least 10 kilometers from a city of 60,000.) I would like to be nowhere near a “major city,” a metropolis of a population over at least two or three million inhabitants—but if I have to be, then maybe three hour drive.

And so sometime last year we started our search. We first prayed about it—or tuned in for it. And then the guidance kept “coming up” for the high mountains. I have lived in mountains during various times in my life—the latest was a twelve year stretch in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, US. But this time, the Nilgiris mountain range called us; a location famed for high-altitude tea and wild animal reserve in the Western Ghats. The jury is still out whether we plan to stay in this immediate location—it seems a little far away from family and friends in Raj's home city (Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.)

Raj found a wonderful little village to live in—and in every aspect, it's delightful. It has a beautiful view of the mountains, of pine forest, a distant view of the little train that runs on tiny tracks from Connoor to Ooty. The country side is spotted with tea plantations, with groves of eucalyptus and cedar, with brightly colored tiny houses. Wild tree Dahlia, gorse, witches broom, forget-me-nots, daisies, raspberries, thistle plants, and straw-flower cling to the corridors contours and tiers of this land. This beautiful country side where we are renting a blue house is our salvation from a lot of stress. From the rooftop of our house we can see tea workers, neighbors brushing their teeth, monkeys, the local tiny story, morning mist and fog, and a deep blue sky.

Regarding tea, my heart wish is to one day see an increase of demand for fair-trade Nilgiris organic tea, and further—that they stop cutting back the tea trees (similarly, like hobbled banzai plants,) that they be left “natural.” My husband was talking to a young woman at the bus stop who made RS 100 daily by plucking tea leaves. This is a little under USD 2.00 per day. These people are so amazing and humble, and we are allowed to live around and near them in this country side. I feel so humble.

Two days before our move to the mountains, we were carefully finishing up our packing. I asked my husband to take only what he needed, and leave the clutter (trash it, give it away, or burn it are my usual options.) And now, fifteen days later, I am re-reading a book by Karen Kingston on space clearing. It seems that I've gotten a little lax over her space clearing techniques since the mid-nineties. When we arrived with thirty-something boxes and other “things,” like dogs and cats, our bodies were pumped with excitement at our new life. And now I am reconsidering what I've brought.

We had some days of “cleansing” with high fevers and a hospital stay (yes, I did the bed-duty...) to be sure that my platelet levels were going back up (from Dengue fever.) This experience gave us a perspective of the medical care here in the mountains—since we had to drive down the mountain three hours to a good facility. This was on Christmas day, and the gift was indeed special: On our winding trip down to the hospital, we saw a herd of wild elephants, with their three babies. They are so much more beautiful in their own habitat.

Thank you, dear friends and family for making contact with us...or attempting to. Given the circumstances, our internet provider is different from the previous (we now have a mobile kind of network, which works differently than a regular cable—we pay by the minute.) Also, we have new phone numbers, please email me if you didn't receive our update email of contact information. At any given time, the internet can turn off, so please don't take it personally if this happens. If you are calling from the US, you may consider buying the calling cards sold by Indians at your local gas station. They have good deals.

Recently, I found that my house was sequestered by monkeys. I looked out my window, and one was sitting on the window sill, a space below it. Then I opened my door to the balcony off of my bedroom, and saw another. I went to the roof, and found another. I didn't have time to feel fear from these guys, but a thought did pass through my mind that I had to reject. Instead, I communicated with the big one using words and images. I told him to tell all his friends that this house was “hands-off, please!” and that they were not to use it as their personal playground. (I had figured out that the dirt prints on the exterior walls were theirs.) And a week later, they've still kept their distance.

Here in the mountains, there are many different kinds of people. They speak tribal languages, Baraga, or they speak Canada, Telugu, Tamil, or Malayalam. It's really a mix here; I can hear the differences. Two young teen-age boys at a shop were convincing my husband not to learn Tamil, that he should speak Canada...but they were urging him in Tamil.

Today I sat for hours in the green grass and looked at the sky, breathed in the fresh air, and took in the power from nature. There is a stand of tall eucalyptus trees at the edge of a field where our house is. We have our dogs tethered here, and alternately we let them off to run and play. The monkeys like to sit on the wall in front of the stand of trees—they rest here from their seed gathering; they watch our dogs; they preen each other. I took off my flip flops and let my feet sink into the thick grass. It's part clover and part crab-grass (the really thick kind.)

We buy fresh cow's milk from the neighbor's cow. I can see their bright orange house when it's not foggy. The other day I was over buying a few items at their store, and the grandmother came outside with a big-telling smile. “Do you like to eat chicken?” She asked me in Malayalam. I hadn't thought of eating chicken in a long time...and I looked over at a healthy hen pecking at bits and pieces of rice nearby...such a pretty girl...I don't know if I like to eat chicken. “You can make a wonderful chicken and bean curry...buy the chicken in Ooty...” Her bright eyes and smile were contagious.

Maybe it was the fever, but I've been slow to get everything in order. And doctor's orders were to take full rest. And so this is what I am doing—washing clothes, hanging them on the roof top lines, watching monkeys and sky, listening to the shimmering leaves, smelling the eucalyptus, moving my dogs around, snuggling with my cats, adjusting to the cool weather. And I'm feeling so grateful for all of the Good in my life. Whether we stay in this part of the Nilgiris—I really don't mind. I'm just happy to be here—away, so far away from the city.

Tags: letters home  india  susan rajkumar  susan flint   

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