Saturday, March 10, 2007

While I was out a-walking this day...

I went for an early morning walk today to make up for the walk I missed yesterday evening. I missed yesterday evening’s walk because I was waiting for someone to visit with me at 6:00 pm and he never showed up. Another example of “Indian time,” I guess. (*smile*) But I can’t complain, since I forgot to meet with someone else a couple of days ago.

Once the sun’s up in these parts, temperatures soar into the 90s, so 5:30 am or pm are good times to venture outdoors for any length of time. I usually walk for about an hour. I head straight for the university campus, the gates to which are about 100 yards down the road from the guest house where I’m staying. Once on campus, I wander along the asphalted pathways more or less at random, purposely varying my route for variety’s sake.

Here are some of the interesting scenes I observed this morning. I’m sorry, I don’t have any pictures; I forgot to take my camera (*sigh*). But let me see if I can paint some of the pictures with words.

With International Women’s Day still very much on my mind, my attention this morning was drawn to a domestic scene that unfolded during the course of my perambulations. Near a building site where a new auditorium is under construction, there’s a small house in which a couple live. When I pass by in the evenings, I always see chickens wandering around the open yard and across the road (the only “domesticated” animals I see tied up are buffaloes and bullocks; dogs, cows, goats, and chickens, for the most part, roam free).

Sometimes, as I pass by the house, I’ll see either the husband or his wife, or both together, doing this and that. Nothing special. I greet them, as I go by, with a smile and a joining of the hands in front of my chest and a softly spoken “Hi” or “Namaste.”

This morning, at 6:00 am, only the wife was outdoors, cracking kindling to start a fire under a cooking pot. We exchanged smiles and I walked on.

About 20 minutes later, I passed by again. This time the hubbie was up, sitting sleepily on the porch outside the front door, while his wife prepared his breakfast.

The third time I passed by, the hubbie was sitting closer to the fire, sipping a cup of tea, while his wife was bent over the cooking pot about to serve his breakfast.

This scenario is repeated in one form or another all over the world, isn’t it? Women get up early to attend to their husband’s needs. The women are attending to their own needs, too, but the husband never, or hardly ever, takes his turn at the domestic chores.

Now this was a fair distribution of responsibilities in the hunter-gatherer days, when your man was off getting the food that your woman put on the table. But more and more, the women of India have to go out hunting and gathering, too—working to earn money to supplement the husband’s often meager income. And the men of India—as elsewhere, I know—don’t lift a finger at home.

In India, the husband/father is the dominating figure in most every household, from what I’ve been told and from what little I’ve had the opportunity to observe with my own eyes. Marriages are arranged. The couple come together. The woman effectively is expected to give herself to her man as a vessel for his children and as a servant to all his needs.

It’s a very, very unequal and unfair arrangement. Gandhi, good man though he surely was and much as he loved his wife, Kasturbai, he was horrible to her at times—dominating and demeaning in so many ways. He'd be the first to admit it; in fact he did so in his autobiography.

Still today, all over the world, men tend to get away with this, and it’s sad to see.

On another subject, this morning, for the first time, I had a grand opportunity to take a picture of the big blackbird with the gorgeous, burnished, golden-brown wings which I described in an earlier posting (January 16, 2007). The one I saw this morning was 10 feet up on the branch of a tree, and preoccupied with keeping some snatched food in its beak. So he didn't see me watching him (or her) and I could easily have got a fine picture if I’d had my camera with me. The food in its beak was wriggling, trying to get away. Then, suddenly, a squirrel leapt from an adjacent tree onto the branch my feathered friend was perched on, and I realized it was the squirrel’s baby that the bird had grabbed. The bird took off; the squirrel continued the chase, leaping unbelievably and desperately from limb to limb in a pointless and vain attempt to rescue its child. So sad; so sad; but that's life, "red in tooth and claw."

I had a moment, during my walk, when a flicker of fear fluttered up the back of my neck. A dog was racing towards me like a bat out of hell. I thought it was a greyhound at first, it was running so fast and so gracefully. It wasn’t looking at me, so I figured it must be after something else. I looked behind me and could see nothing untoward, nothing that might attract a hungry dog’s attention. Then, in the distance ahead of me, I saw a pack of five or six dogs coming up at a canter and slowing down to a walk, looking around at each other like they’d decided to give up the chase. The dog that streaked past me must have been running from a fight. I’m glad he got away.

A few girls were up early, either studying or exercising. Some were wearing pyjamas (an Indian word, by the way), others a light house dress which reaches down to their ankles--what my wife Marilyn would call a muu-muu.

At one point, in the distance and in the shade of overhanging trees, I saw what appeared to be four girls, dressed in salwahs (light trousers and a loose top that goes below the waist, like a long shirt), walking together towards me. They were in twos, each pair holding hands. This is not unusual in India. Men and women, boys and girls, hold hands with friends of the same sex, or they put their arms around each others’ shoulders or waists.

As the couples got closer, however, I realized that each pair was a boy and a girl. “This is a first,” I thought. “Boys and girls holding hands on campus. What a thing!”

At the university here, I’ve never seen a young man make any kind of physical contact with a girl whom they’ve come to visit. Such visits do appear to be allowed, but the couple just stand around and chat, almost always with another girl in tow as a chaperone, and always during daylight hours.

Yet here were these couples walking along hand-in-hand. Bless my soul!

Fortunately they kept coming in my direction, otherwise I might have drawn the wrong conclusion. I eventually figured out, though, that the two boys had some kind of disability. It wasn’t until I greeted them, and we all stopped to chat, that I realized that the two boys were blind. The girls, students at the university, were taking them by the hand to a test center where the boys were due to take an academic exam. The girls were their aides.

Beautiful, and I told them so, and wished the boys every success.

By now it was getting hot, so I scurried back to the guest house before the sun climbed any higher in the sky.

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