Deogarh and the Compromise between East & West
Trip Start Apr 24, 2011
13Trip End May 13, 2011
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First, I realized that we in the West are far too limited in our traffic perspective. Our driver, Mr. Singh, an excellent man behind the wheel and the epitome of grace and courtesy, illustrated this for us by deftly using the opposite side of the freeway. Roads are under construction throughout India in a big way, and this particular freeway even more chaotic than usual as a result.
We had two-way traffic on our side of the freeway, which is confusing enough when you consider that in India they follow the British convention of driving on the left. Mr. Singh sensibly took the position that there was far more unused concrete on the opposite side of the freeway. He then took advantage of an opening in the median and soon we were sailing merrily along against the traffic. Mr. Singh turned out to be right. There was less traffic on the right side of the freeway and we made better time.
My second revelation came in the bathroom at the midway (reststop) Mr. Singh pulled into (which incidentally would not have been available to us had we been driving on the proper, left side of the freeway). Stepping into a stall in the men's room, I realized that India has conquered the conflict between the western "throne" style of toilet we westerners are addicted to, and the non-western Asian “squatty potty” that has the plumbing (or not) of a throne minus the pedestal on which to sit.
Asians consider squatties more hygienic and westerners believe comfort trumps all; this midway toilet offered a compromise. Sitters can still sit, but squatters can lift the lid and find a toilet rim around the bowl wide enough, and with non-slip texturing, to solidly perch their feet and squat.
Mr. Kipling was clearly shortsighted when he claimed that “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.”!
Our arrival later in Deogarh later this afternoon was yet another mind-blowing cultural explosion. Girish, our guide, claimed it was the most authentic local bazaar he’d seen in his fourteen-odd years of guiding (he’s never been to Deogarh). We drove through a lane barely wide enough for our car, eyeball to eyeball with an kaleidoscope of color and movement.
The highlight of the day, though, was a village to village walk just outside of town. A tall, unassuming Indian named Khushwant led us on through a cornucopia of delights, most of which were completely unexpected. May 5 and 6 are big wedding days this year in this part of India. Hindu astrology and the end of the harvest season indicate that these are auspicious days for marriage, which is a three or four day affair.
In the first village, Girish saw some activity and, never the bashful one, led us into a courtyard where a young man was undergoing a strange massage of orange material by one of his female relatives. By this time, we’d picked up a tail of all the village kids under the age of 14 – pestering us to have their photos taken – and we all invaded the wedding preparation en masse, which seemed to be accepted as fully normal by all concerned.
Girish and Khushwant explained that this massage with turmeric is considered a skin cleansing in preparation for marriage. The young man was 21 years old and seemed quite comfortable being rubbed down in the presence of us outsiders. Everyone was happy and laughing and amazingly inclusive, inviting us to take photos of the process, offering us water (which we politely refused), and generally showering us with goodwill and acceptance.
Off to one side, the father sat quietly smiling, watching the activities with a bearing that exuded humility and contentment. Over and over, we are receiving the goodwill gesture of hands pressed together at chest level, and the father gave us this greeting and farewell.
Leaving the village, our "tail" said goodbye, and we walked the winding dirt road between fields that had just yielded their bounty of wheat a couple of weeks ago. We soon encountered a group of women returning at the end of a government work day and learned that the government guarantees each family 100 days of employment annually at a rate of 150 rupees per worker per day (about $3 USD). These women were returning from a day of work, dressed in their colorful saris and scarves as if ready to entertain guests.
As we attempted inconspicuous photos of this colorful workforce, Girish was photographing them as well, and they laughingly scolded him, telling him to quit taking their picture and help them do their work.
Around the bend in the next village, the next surprise was a potter and his wife working almost hidden from view behind a stone wall in the corner of a field. He had a well-balanced wheel that he got up to speed with a stick, then expertly worked the clay into a flower pot. Meanwhile his wife scrapped together clay into workable lumps for his next creation. While we watched over the next 20 minutes or so, he turned out three such masterpieces, using only his fingers, and the hand spun wheel, to shape the pot.
While he worked Khushwant talked to him about his trade and discovered that he sells the pots in the village for 25 rupees each (about 60 cents). As usual, our presence brought out all the village kids, and a number of mothers. Girish never misses an opportunity to interact and soon had the kids laughing and playing finger games with him, threw his hat onto a bare-bottomed baby, and helped us to share in the simple joys of the end of a day in this village where life obviously requires fewer ingredients in the recipe of “success”.
We finished in a third village on the top of a hill where the same Deogarh noble family owns a stately old palace and temple lying in ruins. The slanted rays of the sun illuminated the old buildings as we enjoyed 360 degree views of the fields and villages on the plain below. Tomorrow we take a local train ride!