Thursday, March 31, 2016

India:The Power of a Village (Part 2)

Landing in the Hyderabad and Mumbai airports, I was flabbergasted with the new world of India that was seemingly awash with more color than I had ever seen before. It was like walking into a bright technicolor movie, after watching black and white Charlie Chaplin movies for days. The rugs, decor, art, markets with brightly stacked fruit and vegetables were all painted with new combinations of colors I had never seen before. The saris (the women's dresses) were dazzlingly brilliant. Their choices of bright, bold colors in their saris seemed to be confident walking exclamations--that they were women who were beautiful, but also tremendously capable. It was like God had given extra colors on a palette to India, and everyone embraced the vibrancy of their surroundings.

I have heard that India is the Italy of Asia, and I have to agree. Art in every form, texture, and design were ubiquitous--even on the henna-sketched arms of the women. A new sense of wonder and surprise awaits the visitor in India. But it was the voyage to the small rural villages, communities of people who have lived together for hundreds of years, that captivated me the most in India.

A village unites together to make it better for everyone who lives there. One of my favorite things we did in preparation for the wedding that I attended in India was that we divided up about 20 people. We then completely canvased the village of 3,000 people to invite people to the wedding. It is tradition to invite EVERY single person in the village to the wedding. No exceptions!!!!! Every village needs to breathe this air of inclusion and acceptance. I trudged through the village for about three-four hours, ending with an electric black-out. I had already met many of the people of the village before the wedding that was the next day.Ha! It was so personal, so loving. In the video below, you can see the people waiting outside their homes, as we give them their invitation. Also, the woman of the house receives turmeric and saffron dots on their forehead and throat. When you invite somebody, you put a red dot between their eyes to bless them. Also, you touch their throats with saddle wood. Often times they would then "bless you back," by touching your forehead too. It was only done to the women. It also means that they hope the spouses will live a long time, and long lives will be the blessing of the new couple. When a woman is widowed, she no longer wears the traditional red dot between her eyes, her bangles (bracelets are removed), and  there is no more mendi (henna-decorated hands and arms).

Video by Megan Hansen at meganjhansen.blogspot.com


All of the expats I have met in Qatar who are from India yearn to return to their kindred village someday. They know they are in Qatar for a certain time because currently there is no employment for them in their villages in India. However,  they all plan about the time when they will certainly, undoubtedly go back to their village, their place in this world. They speak of the mango groves or the way everyone comes together for ceremonies in a wistful way, pausing, and then looking away as in a dream. And I understand why. The camaraderie and support in those small Indian villages, emotionally, economically, and religiously, were palpably felt, even to an outsider. The multi-generational layers of history and reinforcement, that has been given for centuries, was beautiful to not only observe, but feel.


A statue of Ghandi in front of the school, reminding them of the power of villages that he preached.

When Ghandi wrote his autobiography, he elaborated continuously on  the power of a village, a network of people that daily barter, teach, celebrate, and work together. He wrote, "I would say if the village perishes, India will perish too. India will be no more. Her mission of the world will get lost." The exchanges in ideas and traditions are the unique power in a village--giving an identity and place to practice how to live. Within a small perimeter of space, villages of people live all over the world. They gossip, love, forgive, and learn from one another.

Ashok and his his sister, Asha, on the day of the wedding. Blogpost about Ashok: A Chance Encounter Can Change Your Life
Ashok Choudhary, a young 22 year old from Adasarlapadu speaks of growing up in his village. (I went to for his sister's wedding. Wedding blog post coming), "My parents are the presidents of the village of about 3,000 people. They wake up at 5:00 am, and have coffee together, talk, clean the house, and then the people of the village come from about 7-10 am, talking about water problems, schools, sometimes about any petty crimes that have been committed (like a bicycle being stolen). There are no police, fire stations, library, waste pickup. All of those things are settled in the village." He continued, "The only people who are brought in from outside of the village is when there is an election, and the ballot boxes are monitored. But that is all. My parents were elected two years ago from the villagers to mediate problems and work for the collective good. Everyone in the village knows that they have the best intentions for the families and individuals in the village. Everyone knows my parents are fair, and they respect them."

Again, I was struck by the women, especially the older women who were beautiful and radiant. Their desire to propel their loved ones forward was inspiring. Here is Ashok, with one of his grandmothers.

Ashok spoke of his father and mother's involvement in the village, "Although my father is about 50 (he doesn't know exactly his birthday because no one ever kept track, and it is only my generation that celebrates birthdays and anniversaries), he has been settling people's problems for about 20 years, all the time I was growing up--even when he was not a president of the village. He loves politics. It doesn't make my parents any money, but they love their village. They will never leave, and will never go anywhere else. They know nothing else. These are their people, and there are no enemies to them. If they have a difference of opinion, they just proceed with their life like nothing happened. "

Listening to Ashok speak when we are both back in Doha, I look at the poised, educated young Indian man who calls me "Mom." He tells me in English with no hint of an accent, "When I was 16, my parents urged me to go to Hyderabad to go to college and learn English. I told them I didn't want to leave the village. I pled for them not to make me go. But they insisted that I should leave the village and learn things they do not know or will ever know. Reluctantly, I went to the city of Hyderabad, to go to school, and then worked for Google. I relentless worked on my English. But I will go back to the village, maybe when I am 40 or 50.  I will be like my parents, and try to give back. I want my village to have a health clinic, a library. I want other kids in the village to have the opportunities I have had. But so many things I want to stay the same in the village."

Going to the village of Adasarlapadu has triggered many reflections about the power of a village. Although Adasarlapadu has little aspects of modern living that I know, this small village has raised a remarkable young man--one who is tremendously intelligent, creative, driven, funny. He gave us a gift when he invited us to come inside his home, his village. It was obvious to the observer of the many people who had made deposits to this young man, and how much all children need a village of people to love them. Perhaps most people in Adasarlapaudu are uneducated, even illiterate, but they know how to build and nourish a child. The entire time we were there, many people were checking up on him, asking about him. We were endeared because we were connected to him. The women, especially the women, the aunts, the neighbors, the cousins, and of course, his own mother,  have loved a little boy who has become a great young man.

The power of women who bond together in a village to nurture children was amazing in this small Indian village. As Ashok told me about his family and neighbors, I could see the the impact that those early connections have on a small child. Gade Kumari (in the red sari), his aunt, who was more educated that many of his family and village always made sure that she brought clothes and anything to her family and loved ones. Because she knew she had more, she gave more. Ashok said, "She would even go to my school to conference with my teachers. She was my aunt, but I owe much to her for making sure I got a good education. Again, she knew she had been given more, and she gave more.

George Eliot wrote in Adam Bede about living amidst the people of our chosen spheres or villages, "These fellow mortals, every one, must be accepted as they are; you can neither straighten their noses nor brighten their wit, nor rectify their dispositions: and it is these people amongst whom your life is passed--that it is needful that you should . . . love." To see the handprints of a village who has shaped such a wonderful young man was heartening, beautiful to me. That is the power of a village.

The beauty, simple, but yet elegant, was painted, carved, and planted in every corner. The courtyard grounds were painted with elaborate tile-like paintings, splashing color everywhere.


Elias walking up the front entry of a beautiful house that was so well manicured. I wanted to linger for a long time there, smelling the passion fruits, mangoes, and bananas.

Doors were painted, with bright yellow colors to show it was a blessed house.
Since we came for a wedding, we were able to see the preparations for the wedding. Village friends helping to prepare for the wedding of two people from the village who had been sweethearts since childhood. I stayed one night at the bride's home (on the roof), along with many others in the family. The groom lived a few "blocks" away. It was remarkable to see a collective group of people plan for the wedding/ceremony/festival in the small village of 3,000. 4,300 people ended up coming to the wedding. 
A young man holding his prize rooster. Indians love their roosters. I heard lots of crowing when I was there in the village.

Animals, goats, sheep, and especially the water buffalo are so important to Indian people. The water buffalo are treated like people, and sometimes they are allowed to wander in the house. Usually, they are kept in the courtyard, right next to the home. They provide the milk, but they are loving pets. They are petted often and watched over.

All the parked  bicycles in front of the school.
Young girls who stay in a hostel in the village. Some of them live too far away to pedal home every day after school so they stay in the hotel during the week, and then go home on the weekends.
Getting ready for the wedding party, putting up the tent, and taking away the water buffalos to the field for the night. 
Some venders who were selling nuts and homemade candies. There was a complete absence of waste products, no cardboard, hardly a bag in sight. Embarrassing, but true, but we had the only water bottles. Everything was composted. The village was clean, efficient, orderly. 
Flowers were everywhere. Ashok says, "Indians believe that they should worship God with flowers."
Going inside a kitchen, I was amazed at the orderliness and beauty of each room in the house.
Some children who are trying to get a peek at the foreigners. The one in the orange and plaid shirt followed me around like a puppy for two days. But he had a face that was easily to love....
A tailor, getting ready to iron some shirts.
A young girl riding home from school, wearing her uniform.
Everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the foreigners. Ashok said only a few people had ever seen a foreigner before. Most had never been to Hyderabad, which is only a few hours away. I am already dreaming of going back too, just like my Indian friends. Are you ready now to go to Adasarlapadu?