Friday, February 24, 2012


It was a freezing cold day on the Ganga. Despite the sun having risen nearly 4 hours ago, the clouds did not allow it to warm the earth. The two oarsmen were relatively warm, the remaining four of us sat rolled up in our sleeping bags thinking dark thoughts of the day we had volunteered for this jaunt.

Because of the clamminess of the day, the river was deserted. No boats, farmers, fishermen or even dolphins. We hunkered down in our woolens to prevent our noses from freezing.

That's when I heard laughter. We looked incredulously at two young girls as they stood in the water. They were fully dressed, but the floral salwar-kameezes were thoroughly soaked. One of them was washing her hair, the other was not up to anything that lady-like.

As we watched, she ran down the slope to the river and without a pause jumped in. Watching her swim strongly out away from the bank I was taken back to my childhood. My sis and I, we were not the sporting types ever. But the one thing we did, did often, and loved to do was swim. She taught me all I know of swimming.

As I watched the girl swim in the Ganga as her sister bathed, I was envious for a moment. That envy was overtaken by pity, though. Not one of my childhood memories has either me or my sis standing on the banks while the other swam. With us it was always a double splash!

I don't do justice to a swimsuit, I don't have technique, and I can't dive to the bottom of a water body. But thanks to my sis, I can swim, and delight in it.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Going to school

'Shonaaaaa' they shout from the top of the hill. And Shona immediately runs up the hill to greet the students on their way to school. They run down together, I gather up the furry scamp near our house, and wave good bye to the others.

Till one day when the littlest girl of the lot nudged her brother. 'Well' she said, 'aren't you going to ask her?'
'Ask me what?'
'Will you tutor us? in English and Maths?'

Uh oh. Here we go again.

Only this time, it is even more challenging. Instead of just one little girl, I also have her two brothers to teach. Instead of just struggling to teach english to a hindi-speaker, I now have to teach maths- in Hindi. I opened one of their maths textbooks, and realised that there is no way I can do it. I cannot understand half the terms, and certainly cannot teach them.

They won't take no for an answer, though. 'In March', I promised. I am very nervous.

I am also humbled by the efforts these children take to get an education. I complained in the last post about the walk I need to take to the top of the hill facing ours for a strong internet connection, about the walk I need to do once or twice a week. These children go to that ridge, and then down to the other side every single day. And for what, I wonder.

What is this walk of 4 steep kilometers going to actually give them? Really, truly give them? A 10th standard certificate. And what is that? A stepping stone to a 'better life', where the better life means going away from the land they love, toiling throughout their lives and coming back as strangers. At the same time, I am the last person to say that literacy is not vital. Homeschooling is not an option where these children are first-generation learners. They clearly need to read, write, and calculate if they are not to be hoodwinked by everyone. But that is not all they need. They need to learn science, ethics, natural history. They need to learn how to use what they have learnt, to take science beyond the textbooks. And this the school does not teach them. Is it futile then, this walking to school? Is it necessary? Is there a better way?

I don't know. And next week onwards, these three come to me to fill some of the gaps in their learning. I am extremely nervous

Friday, February 10, 2012

A wee bit cold (again)

The day before yesterday was a day of hailstorms.A day when going out was not something to look forward to. So cold and hailstorm-y infact, that I had to cancel a skype meeting I had. The connection between the two? Well, the thing is that to access the reliable internet that one needs for online phone conversations, I need to go to Sonapani. A 2-km trek which would not be so bad if 3/4ths of it was not vertical. And not something I wanted to do with hail, a pup, and a leopard who snacks on pups on the route. I wish my colleagues would understand that, though. It seems that everytime I set up an online meeting, the weather gods grease up their cannons. I realise my colleagues' frustration, I feel it too. But this is a choice I have made.

And very often, that choice is amply rewarded.

I woke up to this yesterday. I photographed our dishwashing sink because the frost was most clear on the coffee cup, but every leaf had its rim of ice, every stone had a starry pattern on it. I had filled the kadhai with water to soak, it was solid. The first time that has happened. I am used to a thick crust of ice, but frozen solid? the first time. Shona and I had fun licking a kadhai-shaped ice-candy. Mian declared the two of us nuts.

And by the way, not a bad view for a sink, eh?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The miraculous Ganga water

What surprised me was not how dirty it was, but the reverse. Yes, at Allahabad where we got into the boat the water was atrociously, heart breakingly filthy. The first day that we were floating down, we passed what I took to be decomposing marigolds. It is only when we came close to them that I realised that they were decomposing feces. Thankfully, that stomach-turning moment was the lowest I got. After that, things rapidly got better. From the second day, the water was turbid, true, but naturally so. It was no longer 'fragrant' and for that we were glad.
On the second day, the Tamsa joined the Ganga vastly increasing its volume and its cleanliness. After that, things were pleasant indeed. DM and I took it in turns to occupy the coveted position in the extreme rear of the boat. Here we sat, exposed to the elements, one hand occasionally trailing in the water with a sharp eye out for wildlife.
We saw the Ganga in many moods, with the weather changing nearly every day. The one that is most vividly in my mind, is the day the Tamsa joined us. The sun was out, and the colours incredibly vivid. The broad ink-blue of the Ganga was bordered by a deep rust earthen wall. Beyond were mustard fields in blossom.
Beautiful day, lucky us.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Not Enough

This has been my continual refrain over the last month. And I hate it, because this continuous complaining is not me, or so I tell myself. But so it has been.
It started with the cold wave. This drastically limited my internet access to 15 shivering minutes a day, if that. How, you ask? well..we only have access to the internet on the north-east corner of our porch- the one that directly faces the Himalaya. This is also the corner most exposed to a piercing wind that seemed to blow down all the way from Nepal, carrying hail and snow with it. I could not sit there for any length of time, and so it is not till Mian and I finally ran away to the south that I learnt that there was talk of declaring the cold wave as a national disaster.
But not enough heat. Not enough electricity (the storms blew out power). Not enough space. And when we went to the south, to warm sun and warmer family, not enough time. Not enough time to visit, to talk of all that we wanted to share, to cook. Not enough time to see all that we wanted to. Not enough time to work. And in trying to do it all, I ended up making noone happy.
But now we are back. It is still winter, but the miserable cold has gone. Things are slightly easier. And this little bundle that we left behind when we went to the south is back with us-Shona Bhaloo, the centre of our world.

Soon, it will be spring.