Monday, February 15, 2010

walk to the junction

on saturday we took a walk through our little village of thottanaval, along green, green fields to "the junction" - where our rural road meets another and the sleepy countryside bursts into commercial life with the few shops meeting at the corner. we'd been there just a few days before at sunset to celebrate anita's birthday with some ice cream but today we wanted to take the trek on our own two feet and it turned out to be an incredible adventure and a beautiful window into the daily life that hundreds of millions of people live. too distracted and fascinated to take pictures, we captured loads of snapshots of color and strange beauty in our minds.

just outside the gates of rising star campus, we are in the thick of a rural indian village; twenty feet away from where we sleep in a nice new facility are rows of mud and straw huts where families live. we walk down the dusty road, sprinkled with cow poop and trash. every once in a while there is a bright but faded hindu shrine on the side of the road and cattle roaming lazily. people come out of their low huts to see us and they smile at us as we pass. within five minutes we have found two little friends - small girls who can only communicate with us to tell us their names and who walk with us through the village for a while. every once in a while we hear a distant yelled "hallo!" and look to see someone waving from their humble home. we are the white spectacle of the week. we see people just living their lives, unaware that they are the poorest of the poor and in this case i believe that ignorance is bliss. they are happy, they are content, and they have nothing.

all of a sudden we see a flood of people coming down the road, what seems to be a stampede of workers returning from the fields for lunch. from a distance their vibrant, gorgeous clothes look like a divinely beautiful wave of color. as they get closer to us, they smile, the younger ones with bright white teeth, the elders with dirty smiles rotted from beetle root. as they begin to pass us, they are cheerful and chattery and, a little confused with their english we think, they all wave their hands and say "bye!" as a greeting. many women come up to us and touch our arms and say something tender that we cannot understand. they carry water, tools, food, and anything else on their hands, their skin is hard-worked and leathery, their noses are pierced, sometimes on both sides, and their forehead dots catch the light of the sun. the men interact with us less, walking on the sides of the road as we head straight down the middle, but smile as we say "vannakam" (hello in tamil) to their daughters and wives.

it is amazing to me that we feel a connection, a warmth and love when coming in split-second contact with people wildly different from us. we have nothing in common, yet our spirits smile upon one another. we are all children of the same god.

on the outskirts of the village, some small girls carrying loads of firewood on their heads ask us to take a photo, marvel at their own faces on the screen and walk with us until they reach their homes. we are suddenly out of the village and enveloped in the sweeping green fields lined with palm trees. every once in a while a motorcycle whizzes by, the man driving and the woman sitting side saddle on the back in some exquisitely colored sari. or from time to time we hear that blaring honking that has become the national sound of india, a brightly painted truck rattles by, nearly knocking us off the road. other than this traffic, it's just us, the workers in the fields, the hot heavy air and the still occasional cow. it's beautiful in a way no other place in the world could be.

we pass the victoria's secret factory on the right side of the road. yep, all that lingerie is made out here in the middle of nowhere. kind of interesting. it's that big white building that signals we are almost there.

just when we think we might fall over from the heat, humidity and the long walk, we spot the bright colors of the buildings in the junction. we cool off with ice cream cones, find the tailor and turn in some fabric we bought last week to be made into custom chuithidars (tunic + mc hammer pants). it is there that we are picked up for another saturday adventure and as we rattle away from the junction we are pleased as punch having traversed through a dab of the little life that so many live. one billion people in india. we think our lives are the norm, but that is so untrue. this rural poverty is the norm, we are so the exception. we feel simultaneously blessed and burdened by our possessions.


  1. Great post! Who's talking here? Loved the observations and wish I could have been with you! We saw this only in passing as we whizzed on to the RSO compound. What an experience you girls are having!

  2. That is a fab post Char, and of course it is my baby speaking.....who else could speak with such passion!
    You are amazing!

  3. I love the line: "simultaneously blessed and burdened by our possessions". Wow!