The eleventh day

Fresh from the Pooja

We travelled to the 11th day pooja. Held by Manjula’s brother in the village maybe four hours drive away

I’ve already relayed some of the sensitivities when we met to plan this Pooja. Here. They’ve shifted the day so our closest Indian friends Tanuja, Satish and Vasanth aren’t able to come, bugger. To support me I do however have Tom and Amy, and two other friends Steven (thanks for the photos) from Australia and Imran, who was going to prove to be a godsend, as he’s the only one to really understand and be able to interpret!

The Pooja or ritualistic prayer is mostly a request. The 11th day Pooja is part of the process of helping Manjula’s spirit be released from her body and the here and now. This helps her break away and start her new life in a new form or maybe hang around a bit!

As we arrive the cooking of curries (plenty of meat) and rolling of the Ragi balls is being completed.

We’re ready to rebuff any attempt to try hang on to her jewellery. Within minutes they’re asking for it to be left here until the morning. As agreed I’ll be taking it with me immediately after the Pooja.

Raju, Manjula’s brother is having his head shaved. I’d floated the idea of me being shaved but this was dismissed out of hand by my Hindu advisors Tanu, Satish and Vasanth.

Together with anyone else wishing to express an opinion, there was a clear consensus. It would be toooo complicated. A sort of Indian open house has spoken. (Everyone has an opinion about everything, of course)

Manjula’s photo was the centrepiece she was garlanded and then surrounded by offerings. Of things she liked, maybe.

I placed my garland, her Mangal

Sutra and ankle chains on her photo.

We took it in turns to do twirls with the incense and fire.

It’s obviously an important ritual for a Hindu. It’s also an essential part of bringing communities together.

As one of our party said. There were two people there with tearful red eyes. Manjulas cousin also called Manjula who you can see in a couple of photos here and her brother, Raju. Otherwise it seemed like Manjula was just a quiet voice almost incidental to the whole thing.

On reflection

We now have a clear view of what would have been Manjula’s life if we hadn’t met and fell in love.

She was brought up in the Bamboo bazar slum in Mysore so not a village but most definitely this level of poverty

But it’s not the living conditions or the poverty that seems the greatest challenge but the harshness of some of the people. the sister-in-laws branch of the family are astonishingly direct and focussed on money, Manjula doesn’t really seem to figure

It was time to go

Relatives were asking for Imran’s cell no in case they needed help ie money and so they could make a call if anyone was in hospital or otherwise needed help.

We’ve done our bit and it’s time to go and now realise how hard it was for Manjula and how she’d escaped this life and blossomed in her new one from nine years ago.

Swop?

I can understand how some people might wish to swop places with their loved one who has died or been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

I could do that, no doubt.

But it misses one of the many points.

There would still be the grief, the loneliness, confusion of being only one part of the whole.

And how would it work? I would take on Manjula’s illness she would have all our money, material goods (she’d definitely demand the washing machine) the house, Lucy. No sweat. But it’s no solution. We’d still be apart. Maybe we could go for a hybrid two halves as one.

No I’m not going bonkers this is how my mind ordinarily ‘works’.

If it was just a case of a straight swop. I’d worry that even though Manjula can be strong as a rock, gentle as the waves, she actually comes from a very poor background and in this extremely layered patriarchal society it will always be a challenge for a woman on her own.

Until of course it really changes.

Getting out

I need to get out more.

Sunday was the second Mysore literary festival. Great to get out, meet old and make new friends.

Discussions about wildlife and how we can promote conservation, Roy’s films, presentations on Mysore Palaces and our wood inlay traditions, all great stuff.

Maybe the best of all for me was hearing from a young woman from a very poor background who at age four had been given a new opportunity in life. A philanthropic organisation sponsored her residential education through to her 20s. Not straightforward. An amazing life opportunity but controversially perhaps takes her completely away from her family. I’ve ordered her autobiography. More later.

A great new slogan 🙃

A different segment and layer of society in Mysore. Mostly women, middle class and of an uncertain age.

Great people watching and meeting. I only knew a handful of the maybe 150-200 people..

I do realise from this, that with the challenges at home and the build up to busy-time I do need to get out for a bit of newness now and again.

Coconut palms

The two lovely palms in our drive whose tops form a backdrop for our rooftop garden have been removed by the owner of our house. I’ve managed to hold off the inevitable for a year or two. I’ve used every argument you might imagine, to no avail.

THERE WAS ABSOLUTELY NO NEED FOR THEM TO GO.

So is this…. Idiocy? Stupidity? No it’s probably not those things.

You might see this as a gross over-reaction on my part and maybe it is. It does in my view reflect something that diminishes all our societies. There are at least two key issues. The first is about the ‘trees’ themselves.

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Looking around our area, where beautiful trees are regularly chopped (I’m the one that will go out and challenge, when I see it happening, credibility gone there then) where people dump rubbish (another key question for our guests will be covered on the blog) on the road verges, its a mess, one eyesore after another. You’d think it’s lack of awareness of environmental issues or appreciating what is beautiful. It is those things and it’s depressing.

Its also impractical. Trees are useful they provide amenity. They help freshen our air, create oxygen and now we’ve realised, a week after the carnage we’ve experienced here it provides well needed shade to reduce the temperature and make life bearable in the heat of the summer.

Yes the giving has gone.

it had to happen

 

so in planning for this project aka getting married, I didn’t use a broker, check her horoscopes, or caste, ask her mum (Dad’s dead), expect her to pay for the happening, confirm her status and job, check the flatness of her foot, ponder on her mum’s occupation, I did find out a lot about her, was impressed with her surviving a difficult childhood, her fortitude and stamina throughout life, her flexibility and adaptability in managing and thriving through uncertain and unexpected situations, her compassion and care after such an astonishing series of difficulties throughout her life, things that I couldn’t have even begun to guess about… I did fall in love with her as a person, her humour, her compassion, her beauty both inside an out, her thought for others. her active seeking to help others out, her tolerance of the stupidity of some around her, i hesitated for years as I was concerned that she was in a vulnerable position as employee, an ethical challenge of the first order, but eventually we did come together and i wonder now what did she check out about me…

 

its been a bit weird as we’re open about our situation with all our guests at Mysore bed and breakfast, many of whom have now become good friends, our establised friends here and abroad knew of our relationship but we have chosen to be discreet here in our own immediate locality and have kept our relationship a secret from her family. Not because of the cross cultural India/British aspects, they’re more easily overcome but because the neighbours, well they might frown upon it because our different societal positions (she’s from a poor background) and because if her family knew we’d never hear the end of it not least, with the constant requests for handouts.

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so this was back home immediately after the ‘registry’ office. A few days later a wonderful team came together to create a most memorable event most unlike anything that the majority of indians would accept as a wedding, but for us it was perfect.

Maid in India 1

Quotes taken from ‘Maid in India’ by Tripti Lahiri :

 

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an image from a postcard that we publish

 

“We eat first, they later, often out of food portioned out for them; we live in the front, they in the back; we sit on chairs and they on the floor; we drink from glasses and ceramic plates and they from ones made of steel set aside for them; we call them by their names, and they address us by titles: sir/ma’am, sahib/memsahib”

 

Think that’s in the past?

Well, think again.

“In today’s India its not unusual to see, often in largely empty restaurants, a couple seated with their child at a table for four, while the help is despatched to sit not one but two tables away….. or a nanny dandling a child on her lap at a nightclub while her employers and their friends drink cocktails as it creeps towards midnight, her hours of sleep dwindling since she is no doubt expected to be up and ready for another day at sunrise…. or for example children playing in a neighbourhood park, seeing a plump, light-skinned boy on a swing crook his finger at the petite darker woman standing nearby and utter a single word: Push”

Womens’ life experience is an incredible indicator of how a particular society works, from top to bottom.

In India the situation of women and particualrly those who are most socially and economically excluded, in this case, the ones that serve others, shines a spotlight on the social mores, the rules by which we operate, the structures and belief systems that helps maintain the status quo.

It also shows something else.

That is, how these women in often extraordinarily challenging circumstances not only manage but can thrive, can flourish and through that, show their astonishing abilities. In a sense, the influence they subtly exert and how they deal with the changes facing them can also demonstrate to us, on a macro level, how to deal with some of the challenges and opportunities facing contemporary India.

Let’s take a look.

 

Well she can’t

Wedding update….

On the very next day we get news that the father of the boy has called the girl to ask what her fathers job is and to how much money will be given by them as dowry.

It works out that the boy’s family is quite rich, the dad is a civil engineer and they have cars and maybe three houses.

So it’s off. There is a mismatch on wealth and occupation. Quite why this wasn’t sorted by the broker before they even met, who knows.

So mum is a bit sad, daughter says she doesn’t care, even if she doesn’t ever get married.

So the apple cart is upset. This must be a very stressful situation. The individuals involved must feel the rejection very personally and familially.

So whilst it might be illegal, dowry is still a BIG issue. I think it’s just one of the ways that suitability and comparability is clarified. It’s a short cut. Back in England in the upper classes, the man would approach a woman’s father to ask for her hand in marriage. Their suitability would also be determined maybe by their wealth, and income but above all by class. Is this really much different?

In life, in India, caste is incredibly significant. It not only reflects one’s position in life and how one will be treated by others, it will affect life chances and experiences. And as we’ve seen with this example, even caste alone is not good enough to determine someone’s suitability.

In my view it’s one of the most corrosive things in Indian life.