I was there for a little less than a week, and in that time enjoyed the hospitality of and learned from several people in the villages of Nihog, Garson, and Rahaur (Taluka: Nahan, District: Sirmaur, State: Himachal).
Since I started visiting villages for work (in 2003), I have been amazed by the warmth and ease with which people have hosted me in a variety of circumstances . In Rahaur, my (male) colleague and I blushingly shared a king-sized bed complete with a crimson damask cover. More often, I've lain down on a mattress with all the women in the family. And I hope that if I am ever confronted with a casual acquaintance with a backpack and no shelter, then irrespective of the state of my house, I'll be able to say 'of course you'll be staying with me.'
Not all encounters were perfectly good. At one place, I was sharing a room with the mistress of the house. After quizzing me about the exact particulars of my caste and origin, she asked me how many brothers I have. Not the number of siblings, the bhai-behen, I might have. She was only interested in the brothers. "Not one", I cheerfully replied.
"you are alone?"
"no, I have a sister."
"What? Just one sister? How can that be?" she asked, causing me to formulate and regretfully discard a number of replies invoking the birds and the bees. I settled for a smile and a shrug.
The topic then moved to my sister's children.
"My sister has one daughter" I said, my voice warm with pride as I thought of my spunky, book-devouring, piano playing niece. She tut-tutted in commiseration. I tried half-heartedly to challenge her stand, to make her think instead of reacting by rote. Not too strenuously though- I was a guest after all, and I was already saddened by all that I had seen that day.
The grandpa who trekked up the mountain at 7:30 in the morning to meet the two strangers visiting the village had far more serious matters on his mind. He quizzed us at length about our organization, work, and whether permission from the village headman had been obtained. Our answers apparently satisfied him, because he then explained that he thought we were spies- from Pakistan, of course. Once he had satisfied himself that we were not a threat to the nation, he was free to do some recreational interrogation.
Grandpa: 'how many children do you have?'
G: 'Oh. What exactly is wrong there?' (Indicating area where his womb would be- if he had one)
M: 'eh? oh, oh..nothing's wrong. We haven't been married long, haven't had time' (G looks at me as if he would dearly like to give me The Talk, but mercifully lights a cigarette instead)
And below are photos of a place we stayed at(the crimson damask one). The dangling glass thingies are probably cymbals, and the water heater is wonderful for its utilization of pressure as an operating mechanism.