Seasons and Reasons
There is nothing like the choking poison of Delhi traffic or the stifling heat of Rajasthan to make me feel like I am in India. Arriving in Delhi I managed to spend the absolute minimum of five hours in the city before jumping plane to the verdant fields of the Kullu Valley. There was green and mountains misty with monsoon rains, rivers rushing towards the plains of Punjab and the feeling that time had not moved so much as the season since I left only a few months ago.
Life is so soft in the mountains. People work hard and punctuate their labours with local festivals, but there is gentleness about the climate and the Valley that is not evident in the sprawl of Delhi or the villages of Rajasthan.
Anyway, for a long time now I have followed the precept that every pilgrimage of India should begin and end with a visit to Pushkar Lake, until I have done that I don’t feel as if I have officially begun my India time.
So we hurtle down the mountains in a twenty-hour stint to arrive in Rajasthan at sunrise, a detour through Delhi confirmed my suspicions that traffic jams caused by the revamping of Delhi in preparation for the Commonwealth games continue even in the wee hours of the morning. Anyone having to catch a plane out of Delhi would be advised to prepare for delays of up to three hours, even at three in the morning.
But then at dawn, the trail of blue peacock feathers draping the roof of a Shiva temple announces the state of Rajasthan, spread out like an early morning picnic blanket before us.
Here the festival season is in full swing, This is the time for farmers to take leave and make a holy pilgrimage somewhere with the entire family To bathe in a holy lake, to listen to some guru, to sing and chant and dance and buy plastic toys for their children. To cook on fires fuelled by the cow dung fuel they carry with them and to sleep in the open by a busy roadside.
The first time I witnessed this local approach to festivals I used to think why on earth would anyone bother to load up a bus or a bullock cart with just about the entire kitchen, pots and pans and spices and cow dung, the mother in law and assorted children and then walk sometimes for miles to some event so that they could cook and eat and shit and sleep in the open. I mean for gods sakes, wouldn’t they be more comfortable at home? Holidays seemed to me like harder work than the usual round of gruelling farm labour.
I had to admire their commitment to having a good time. Life is hard for rural people in India generally and in particular for the people of Rajasthan and neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. The failure of the monsoon has crippled entire villages, bankrupted farmers and fights over water supply have resulted in a quite a few deaths.
So I don’t begrudge them their four am puja beneath my window every morning, after a few rolls and groans and attempts to force my eyeballs open I get up and watch from my window the magic tapestry of India, her people, their stories all played out on the ghat below.
There is a sadhu washing in the predawn light, Brahmins sweeping their temples, cows rolling through the changing shed, a widow and her son, his shaved head and the basket the carry indicate a close death in the family, a farmer woman from Harayana feeding chickpeas to the black faced monkey, a Brahmin shouting at a pilgrim for wearing shoes close to the holy water, a tourist taking surreptitious photos, a swarm of pigeons circling over, a baby monkey swinging on my window and another grooming it’s mother. A group of villagers line up at the waters edge and repeat word for word the shouted prayer of the pundit; two kids scream and run away when a monkey gets too close, a man grabs a cows tail to lead it out of his way. Saris flutter in the early morning breeze and neon coloured turbans twirl as they dry in the sun, there is the constant ring of the bell at the entrance to the ghat, the shrieks of the baby monkeys and the cries of the kids. The sadhu completes his wash and wobbles away on stick thin legs and now here comes a band! With drums and bells and people singing and clapping just to add a bit more masala to my early morning viewing!