India: Sometimes tough …and sometimes touching, beautiful and overwhelming

August 2008

In the afternoon we moved into another house, followed of course by the usual crowd of faithful observers. There was no more room left in Baba’s brother’s place. Seven children, Baba’s brother and his wife, a pregnant cousin, the dying grandfather and an aunt who had come to take care of him were already occupying all available space.

Patio life

Patio life

Our new “home” was at a Brahmin’s family house, Baba referred to them as uncle and auntie. In India you don’t have to be physically related with someone to have a big family, it’s more kind of a how you feel towards the other person matter. Because of that you can actually have countless brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts.

I loved that house from the beginning. It had a spacious open patio around which the living area was built. In the middle of the patio was a deep well, which looked like the ones you see in horror movies, a water pump and a lovely puja place. The house was completely plastered with the typical mix of clay and cow dung, which made it look pretty comfy. Besides the uncle and auntie, the grandparents and four bigger kids were living there. The three girls were extremely beautiful. I have to say that I was generally amazed by the beauty of the village women.

The toilet

The toilet

Puja and Shilpa who were twelve and thirteen years old became our personal caretakers. They would follow us wherever we went with their palm tree fans to alleviate us from the sizzling heat. First Pagli and I felt pretty embarrassed about that, but they did their job with so much love and dedication that in the end we really ended up appreciating it. It was also truly comforting that they had a “toilet” which was actually a mere hole in the ground inside of the cowshed with some bricks on each side; BUT it was a private space with a door you could close behind you, a fact that I highly appreciated after my crazed action earlier that day.

At some point the people who did not directly belong to the household left for lunch, Baba went somewhere on a mission with the men of the house and finally we were asked if we would like to have a shower. Pagli and me wrapped a pareo around our bodies and stepped out into the patio. In India it is a common thing to take a shower with something covering your body; while men shower openly everywhere under public water pumps in underpants riddled with holes, the matter is a bit more complicated if you are a woman. The girls were pumping water for us into a bucket from where we then scooped water over our soapy bodies with a jug. The mud floor became pretty slippery and after I had finished with the bathing ritual and wanted to leave the patio, I slipped and almost fell. I managed to hold on to the wall and ended up with a huge piece of it in my hands. The grandmother appeared and I apologized:

“Sorry, Mataji! I think I broke your house!

She started laughing and made me understand with a gesture that there was no need to worry. If you are used to take a shower in private and don’t have much practice with the Indian way, then it’s pretty much of an art to get rid of all the soap from under the cloth. I guess my technique was especially poor; a couple of hours later I was covered with a nasty, itchy rush.

We westerners soon discovered our private Kingdom of glory:


We escaped there from time to time to have a smoke and a bit of rest from the crowd. There we would sit for a short while motionless like lizards in the frying heat, but the few moments of peace were worth the suffering. Every time we went there Puja and Shilpa followed us until the steps watching us from there with horror and shouting


Getting black is one of the biggest fears of Indian women. The TV ads are full of skin bleaching products and if you go through the dating services in the newspapers (which by the way is a fabulous time pass), you will find a lot of emphasis put on the fair complexion of the bride. The world is a strange place; in the west people fry on the beaches to get sun-darkened and here they want to be as white as possible…

In the evenings though everybody would gather on the big roof top,  well actually only the women and the kids would join us there. They really seemed to enjoy that the westerners were women, too. This made them have something special that was not meant to be shared with any men. We sat there for hours, trying to understand jokes and to have conversations, singing songs, holding small babies in our arms and having kids sitting on our laps. It felt like having been adopted by a tribe of amazons and even if it was a bit trying at times, it was an amazing experience!

Our beautiful caretakers

Our beautiful caretakers

Suddenly a cracking sound filled the air. Then a squeaky voice of someone talking through a speaker could be heard.  We realized that there was a great number of speakers hanging on posts all over the village. The voice started singing and the someone played the tabla. Shortly after, a harmonium and more singers joined in.

Eventually Baba showed up and we finally got the chance to find out what was going on:

The villagers were doing this every single evening since his grandfather fell sick. Actually they were doing Kirtan to pray for his soul


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