Thursday, 4 June 2015

Things fall in place

I arrived to my study-village in Arunachal Pradesh after more than a year, hungover from times in the United States of America, and from four days spent at home in Bangalore. Resources were superfluous in the last nine months; electricity, internet, phone network, home delivery, libraries and suchlike. Here - no electricity, no phone network or internet, have to cook food on firewood and more rain than the village needs right now, life quickly slows down. And then as the feeling sets in, good things start to roll.

The first house I went to, I see a new baby born and in spite of meeting me for the first time ever, she smiled and welcomed me. I was at my old home again. The entire village was cultivating a complete new hillslope in the landscape, the previously cultivated hillslope in the foreground, its a bit like the feelings I was going through, new ones replacing the old ones which are presently fallow.

I enter the old Forest Barracks/Inspection 'Bungalow' where I've spent many months in the last five years and I now wonder how. A dark place alone where silence hangs like its part of the air here. And then I wonder, do I still remember to make a fire? So, I try to start a small fire, a single matchstick lights strips of papers light strips of bamboo light woodstrips light small logs of wood and the fire sustains. Yes, I do know how to make a fire! The first meal, Ragi (finger millet) powder in hot water, filling.

So many flowers have bloomed and ferns look healthy, its their time now what with all the play of rain and sun these days.

And on a short walk I see a white-faced Mithun (Bos frontalis) nurse her white-faced calf. Nearby, the Siang is roaring with white water with all the rain; carrying silt a thousand miles from here as well as bringing in silt from thousand miles to here.

Back in the barracks, evening is taking away the little light available and Dungé my friend built a contraption with two batteries to light few LEDs and I have light, bamboo makes good battery hold it seems. This light lasted the two weeknights I was at Bomdo, when I read 'The Mink River' by Brian Doyle, stories from a beautiful village called Neawanaka, not very different from the village I was in. Intertwined stories of joy and sorrow of ordinary people's everyday life that are told with intricate details, and most imaginative metaphors. 

In the evening, its still raining so hard that I see a small little bug sitting motionless under a leaf-umbrella, nice choice of place for a shelter from the storm. 

The next day when the rain reduced to a spray, I took another long walk. Ricefields on the other side of Siang look like a multi-layered cake in a confectionary, either I'm hungry or I'm getting acclimatized to the loneliness, mostly the latter, I'm well-fed. 

A pill millipede anxiously crossed the road ever so slowly; its back is waterproof, and when it figures I am close enough it closes up just for a few seconds, then builds up courage and opens up again and continues its journey; we're two strangers crisscrossing that mean no harm to each other..

Back in the village, the old people are chatting as one of them is making an umbrella for the rain with cane, three layers of these to keep the rain at bay. They offer me rice wine and I join them, warm chat after a long walk in the rain. 

In the evening I visit a close friend's home for dinner, there's fish from the Siang river for dinner and chats over fire catching up; he tells me more old people have passed on in the months I wasn't here than new kids born. 


A new grave  when an old man dies, they bury him close to the village and hang some of the Mithun's horns that were sacrificed from his house, also his cane-bamboo backpack, his kettle and some pots and pans, he is going to need them in the other world.

Finally, one sunny day, the barracks I stay in, nested in the hills.

I start my field work. On the way, one of the villagers is bringing back a boar. He hunted it yesterday and his clan people have joined him in bringing back the meat, must be a big one, its a load for at least five people. 

Back from field work, I eat some more of Ragi porridge and the kids have come to the barracks asking for gifts. Having seen me enter the village with big bags few days back, they think I have gifts for all of them, many. I have none. But will buy some later from the nearest town and give them. 

The next day is also bright. Bamut bura is weeding his rice field opposite the barracks, its a hard job.

I asked him why he had tied white strips of cement bags to the tree boles in the field. The strips move in the wind and scare away the birds that were eating up the ricegrains he had broadcasted in the field. 

I prepare my first big meal in the barracks; rice, dal and papad. Someone had made a dal-mixer with bamboo, perfect for my use, thanks, someone. 

After eating, I venture out and realise its a field day for insects. A crimson-tailed marsh hawk adds extreme pink to the colours on a sunny day, a common gull butterfly sits pretty on a yellow flower, a bee pollinates in exchange for a drink, a jewel beetle walks the tight rope on a thin leaf blade, and a pretty snail decides to do a slow-motion bungee jump with its mucus.

Then it rained again for a week during which the Solung festival happened. The two days following Solung are 'mana' days, days during which it is restricted to do any work. So like a gaulish village on a holiday, the entire village drinks and by noon some are singing, other arguing, others indulged in a game of cards and strangely some even sleep in the noon. On other days sleeping in the afternoon is almost a taboo. I think the point of the 'mana' is just that; few days in the year are reserved for rest since other days are full of hard work for agriculture.

When finally we had few hours of sun one day, everyone was out again. Some kids playing cricket in the field, smaller kids collecting colorful wrappers, and the women playing cards, there is nothing much else to do. But that was a short break and the rains broke out again.

Some more days in the barracks spent, with a loud background of rain falling hard on the tin roof, contemplating the answer to life, the universe and everything. Lonely times in a place with no electricity of internet where the only choice you have are to read or write are rare and I have learnt to savor them, because afterall, things fall in place.

No comments: