A Day in Majkhali
The sun is up around 6am these days. In the village, the day starts and ends with the sun. There are many tasks, from cooking and cleaning to working the fields, which all must be done by sundown. Meera usually arrives by 6:30–7 in the morning. She is the caretaker for Ajay’s house and property, but honestly she is more like a member of the family. Ajay calls her ‘Meeradi’ which means big sister. I’ve taken to calling her Meeradi as well, and she sure gets a kick out of that. Meera has a 13 year old daughter named Shreya who is generally over at the house when not at school. Shreya is learning English, and Meera has asked me to help her, but Shreya is generally more interested in playing games on my phone than having a conversation. Meera doesn’t really speak any English, but she is very intelligent and we usually have no problems communicating basic ideas to each other. Meera has an incredible work ethic, and if she wasn’t here every day, things would quickly fall apart.
One of the first tasks of the day is to take Koaeli to the jungle. Koaeli is a big beautiful cow which Meera owns and keeps at the bottom of the hill on Ajay’s property. Koaeli had a calf not long ago who is still too young to go to the jungle, so she stays back and munches on grass for most of the day. Now you might be wondering why Koaeli goes to the jungle each day and leaves her little calf all alone. I was certainly curious myself, but the answer is not quite what you’d expect. Koaeli goes to the jungle to munch on grass, but more importantly it’s a social event. Koaeli is sent to the jungle each day to hang out with the other village cows! One can only imagine the kind of mischief these cows get up to each day.
Now, truth be told, I haven’t exactly adjusted to the whole up with the sun schedule. I’ll usually be up and moving by 8, unless Ajay and I decide to do yoga in the morning, which he likes to start around 7. My room is in a separate house down the hill from Ajay’s house. I’ve got everything you need to live on your own, a bed, some shelves, a bathroom, etc. The only thing that’s missing is a kitchen. Now the ‘bathroom’ is more accurately described as a room with a toilet, sink, and bucket. There is no bath, there is no shower. I have a handy little coil heater, which you set into the bucket of water, to make a bucket of hot water. When the temperature is just right, there is another mini-bucket for pouring the water all over yourself and getting squeaky clean. My first bucket shower was quite awkward, but now I’d call myself a pro.
I live by myself in the room, but I do share it with a number of friends, specifically friends of the 8-legged variety. At first I was very put off by the size, number, and frequency of spiders in my room. I swear there is some kind of spider factory operating at maximum output in one of the dark corners of my room. The little guys are OK, but the first time I saw one of the big mamajamas next to my bed, I nearly lost my shit. This guy in particular was bigger than the palm of my hand, so I had no choice but to go to battle with it. Armed with sock bombs, a broom, and an embarrassingly unnecessary amount of bravery, I fought to the death with this monster. It put up a valiant fight, but made the rookie mistake of going for the door jam, in which I crushed it. I was victorious, and told Ajay the next day about this great battle. He said it was nonsense and that spiders are nothing to be afraid of, but that I do need to watch out for scorpions… very reassuring news. Since then I’ve found two scorpions on separate occasions next to my bed. I show them no mercy, and swiftly pulverize them with a spatula that I have designated specifically for murdering scorpions.
If I make it out of my room in the morning without being eaten by a spider or poisoned by a scorpion, it’s time to head up to Ajay’s house for breakfast. Meera makes nearly all the dishes we eat. She is an amazing cook. We eat a full vegetarian and vegan diet, with the exception of milk from Koaeli. Meera gets about a liter of milk from Koaeli each day, which we use to make milk tea, curd (yogurt), and a variety of curry dishes. The name of the game when it comes to Majkhali cuisine is dal bhat, or beans and rice. We eat beans and rice nearly every day, served with a different vegetable or cooked in a different spice to keep it exciting. Each meal is usually served with chipati, which is a traditional flat bread. It’s usually made from a mixture of millet and wheat flour, but can also be made with rice flour. Nearly everything we eat comes from the local markets, Meera’s farmland, or Ajay’s garden. The food is almost all organic and has never seen a factory or any packaging. Most every dish starts with turmeric, masala, cumin seeds, and red chili flakes tossed into a wok with mustard seed oil. Once hot, the vegetable is added, mixed, and set to simmer while the rice is just getting started in the pressure cooker. Then we make a hearty amount of chipaties by hand, and by the time those are done everything is ready to eat! Eating fresh, nutritious, wholesome, and seriously tasty food is one of my favorite things about living here.
After breakfast it’s time for a few chores. Ajay has taken to calling chores ‘karmic yoga’ lately, which make chores feel like part of some spiritual quest. My chores are generally twofold: do the dishes and fetch water. There’s not much excitement in doing dishes, but fetching water can become quite the adventure. The water we use for drinking and cooking comes from a communal watering hole at the bottom of the hill next to the road. There is a big copper jug that I carry on my head after filling up. This task can turn into an adventure because there can be quite the line-up of folks waiting to get their water. Since I am literally the only white person in this whole village, I am an instant spectacle for everyone here, especially when I am carrying a jug of water on my head. Everyone is really nice, but I get a lot of ‘whoas’ and ‘wows’ and just plain astonished looks. At first it was neat, everyone being so fascinated simply by my existence, but after a while it gets old. In any case, I fetch the water and my karmic yoga is done for the day.
At this point Ajay has usually left to go to Ranikhet, a town 30 minutes away where he is working on a local agriculture project, and Meera has gone to tend to the grass, which during this time of the year is being cut and saved to feed Koaeli for the winter months. Somedays I go into town with Ajay, and other days I will spend with Meera helping with the grass or other tasks, like drying and sorting grain. However, since fall semester has started, I’ve been busy with online work for classes. I also have my masters project to chip away at, which is the whole reason why I am here in the first place (I will write more about this in a future post). After I get burnt out on school work, I like to take walks through the forest. Ajay’s property sits right on the edge of the jungle, which has tons of trails. One of the trails leads to an old temple which is situated along a stream in a beautiful pine forest. This setting is the definition of serene, and I like to sit here, meditate, and contemplate life’s bigger questions. Why are we here? What’s my role in the world? How do we transform our modern society of mindless, extractive, destructive consumerism into a society which values and respects the ecology of the earth and the diversity of humans which inhabit it? I fear the answer to that final question will only be made clear by the time it’s too late.
After a quick hammock nap and a few other miscellaneous tasks, it’s about 5pm and everyone is back home. Shreya is over most evenings for dinner and games. We sometimes play this game Ludo, which I have come to learn I am terrible at. After the fun and games, we have dinner, which in many cases is similar to breakfast. Then it’s time for Meera and Shreya to go home. They live with their extended family in a house on the main road, just about a 15-minute walk away. Now that it’s getting dark early in the evening, Ajay and I will walk them most of the way home. Since we are next to the jungle, the wild animals come out at night and can be notorious for harassing passerbys. By the time Ajay and I get back to the house, it’s nearly time to call it a day. Just some final karmic yoga left to do: making sure the kitchen is tidy. Afterwards I head back to my room and prepare myself for new friends large and small crawling all over my walls. Once the perimeter is clear, I like to practice some basic yoga before I go to bed. Yoga is a great way to end the day and get your body ready for sleep.
Each day has something new to offer. I’ve learned so much just by spending time with Meera and challenging myself to communicate with her. She has taught me so much about the values and customs of this culture without even realizing it. Her knowledge didn’t come from a book; it came from her ancestors. Her way of life is more or less the same as it has been here for thousands of years, and there are moments where I feel like I have gone back in time. It’s these moments I will cherish the most, because they reveal what life was like before we had all of our modern conveniences, like fast food, big box stores, and smartphones. These conveniences are supposed to make our lives easier, make us happier, but more often than not we get sucked into lifestyle choices which are psychologically and environmentally unhealthy. Because I have a fanatical disposition for trying to understand the problems of the world, I can’t help but propose a thought. It’s a radical thought, but maybe part of moving forward is recognizing that we need to take a few steps back and start walking in a different direction. Much easier said than done… I’ll leave you with a thought from one of the most relevant thinkers of modern history. Until next time.