This time around, I travelled alone in the hills. This not only meant that I did not need to share my bed with my colleague, but also gave me admission into the world that the women had carved out for themselves. I needed to seek it out, of course. Perhaps because I was travelling alone for work, I was treated in a masculine manner and told to sit in the parlour, kept away from women, etc. A little dodging around and wistfully peering into the kitchen enabled me to break that barrier.
And I am glad I did. The women of the household are mere shadows when in the company of their men, but among themselves, they blossom out into fun and laughing spirits. The kitchens are small, basic, warm, and cheerful. They sit together all- mothers, daughters, and daughters-in-law- to cook and chatter. They can not eat till after all the household has eaten, but no matter. They roast corn on the hearth and munch on that (without sharing with the men, of course). They trade recipes and excitedly gossip with this stranger in their midst. For most of them Dehradun (a six hour journey by bus) is impossibly far and exotic. After I told them of my life and of the city, they would ask me, "Who looks after your crops and your cattle when you travel?"
I called my Mian one night and told him that I'd caused a dozen women to fall in love with him.
'And what exactly did you tell them?', he asked cautiously.
'You don't want to know', I laughed.
It wasn't much, actually. I was describing our evenings to them. How Mian and I cook together in the kitchen, how we then sit and eat together, how he makes my favourite treats for me. They were astounded at my naivete in gadding about alone and leaving such a prize catch unsupervised. And then they gave me tips too..'Do like we do and keep a lathi hidden in your pallu. Your Mian looks at another woman, use it on them both!' I just hope they meant it figuratively.
Unlike the men who were always full of complaints, the women were downright gleeful. And that is strange, because their troubles were far more than those of the men.
mangalsutra around my neck does not count, they insisted. And so one afternoon, Samota Devi and her daughter and her daughter in law all dressed me up. They painted my nails, loaded (and I mean loaded) my arms with bangles, placed a bindi on my forehead and were out to pierce my nose when I managed to escape. I will string the bangles as lightcatchers now..a reminder of a most generous woman.