A Tale of Three Villages
July 14, 2008
Arriving Monday morning, June 16, after a 5-hour drive, I met my husband Tim and Jemal (also on the Solar team) on their way to the town of Chandigarh to run a half dozen errands. The half dozen errands took the predicted amount of time — long. We arrived back at the hotel at 8:30 that night. Granted the drive into town is an hour and a half one way, so 3 of the 10 hours were spent in driving back and forth.
Let me take a moment to clear up some of my misconceptions about this first project. Morni Hills is the “larger village” in the area where the solar team is working. Although they are staying at a hotel there, they are actually providing electricity to two smaller towns within walking distance – Chokli and Ramsar. Both of these villages currently do have electricity, but it is erratic and not always strong. What the solar team is providing will give each home more consistent power, enough for two lights and fan. Why, you ask, are they not providing electricity to some other village which has none at all? Because the project is partly government funded and this is where the team was directed to “show what they can do.” This will be the solar team’s showcase and reference for future jobs.
Daily at 7am, directly after morning meditation, the team eats breakfast at the dhaba (restaurant) down the street where the meals are tasty, if predictable. You get breakfast, lunch and dinner. The family-run dhaba serves whatever is cooking: tea and paranthas (flat bread) for breakfast, with lunch and dinner consisting of paranthas, dal (lentils), a vegetable dish, and yogurt. Occasionally, there is rice. Everyone has been drinking the “simple water” from the tap with no ill effects.
While the family members prepare and serve the meals they also chase off birds, dogs and monkeys looking for tidbits to steal. The birds like the jalebis (a deep-fried sweet), the dogs prefer paranthas and the monkeys will take whatever they can grab!
The team has been prepping, digging, and building for the past six weeks. They often refer to their days there as Groundhog Day (for those of you who saw that movie). Work begins at 8am. They return to Morni Hills for lunch at 12pm and are back at the work site by 1pm. The work day ends at 5 or 5:30 and they have tea, download, and then meditate before dinner, which is at 7:30.
The area around the wind turbines and where the solar panels will go up in July is wonderfully peaceful and green, at least by the time I arrived. On Tuesday, my eyes spent a lot of time framing photographs and taking in the vast vistas.
The tips of the foothills more or less float on a sea of clouds. That afternoon we had one of the frequent showers that descend on the area at this time of year. Rain showers begin with a few drops and quickly manifest as a tremendous downpour. Showers are sometimes brief, but once Tim had to duck into the work shed with two other men for four hours to wait out the chilly rain.
Now the reason that I made plans to go to Morni Hills on Monday was because the engineer from the company that provides the wind turbines was scheduled to arrive that day and guide the team on raising the first of two turbines on Tuesday. Naturally, there was a delay. One learns to expect delay in India as surely as the Ganges flows from the Himalayas into the Bay of Bengal. Aum.
The next expected date of the engineer’s arrival was Thursday. Well, being “Do It Now!” Americans and Ananda members, our team decided not to wait for the engineer. They would erect the first one and receive critiquing upon his arrival.
Wednesday afternoon, after only a couple of delays, the turbine went up under the watchful eyes of many residents of Chokli, amid little fanfare, but with the sense of a job completed and, perhaps, well done (waiting for the engineer’s stamp of approval – or not).
Thursday morning, while the others were getting ready to erect the second turbine, I decided to explore the village of Ramsar “across the way”—meaning I had to traverse fields and rocky paths. I’ve done a lot of hiking and am used to figuring out trails but this one was beyond me at places. Tim started me off before returning to work, but occasionally I would falter. However, lovely souls in Chokli shouted down helpful directions from the top of a building where they were watching my progress.
I never did get to see much of the village of Ramsar. Upon arriving, I followed a short path to a cliff and was blessed with yet another view of the foothills. Naturally, my progress through the village was watched by residents who nodded pleasantly as I passed. Returning along the path I stopped to take photographs of the children who were watching and running alongside me. (One of the best things about having a digital camera is being able to take photos of people and share them right there and then.)
After taking a photograph of two older ladies, a younger girl, and several of the children, the oldest woman invited me into her home. I declined, indicating that I wished to see more of the village and take more photographs. “Ek min, ek min,” she said (“One minute”). I figured my visit would be a cup of chai and I’d be on my way.
I was very pleased to be invited because although I’ve travelled to all points of India over the past four years, this was only my second visit to an Indian home in a small village.
The woman invited me to sit down and went into another room. She returned a few moments later with her husband who, it turns out, speaks English. As a matter of fact, he is a retired teacher and one of the subjects he taught was English. Thank you, Divine Mother. I’ve such a terrible time understanding accents and yet I could understand most of what this lovely gentleman said. He, of course, was happy to have someone to use his English with. Although many in the family speak English, they always like to practice with Americans. (Tim told me of a boy who a few days earlier asked if his [the boy’s] English sounded British or American and was very happy when Tim told him it was more American.)
They did indeed feed me—chai, water, biscuits, and a sweet dish.
Ved, my host, was very sweet and we had a pleasant time talking of religion, spirituality and the race for the American presidency. It turned out that his granddaughter, Tanvi, the girl I had taken photos of, also speaks English, but had been shy about speaking at first. She is 18 years old. While most of her grandfather’s children and grandchildren are teachers, she is studying to be a nurse. She and I spent an hour looking at photographs of her family—some very old photographs and also an elaborate wedding album of her aunt and uncle.
It was a kick listening to her describe her family. She would point to a photo and say, “And this one, he is my auntie.” Or, it was pronounced “moosey,” which is the mother’s sister. Apparently, there is another name for the father’s sister, but I quickly became overwhelmed by the differences. An Indian friend later told me that he gave up a long time ago trying to sort out the different names for different family members. So if he had to give it up, I don’t feel so bad!
Then she would point out her father’s older brother and “short brother” (meaning younger). And it took me awhile to realize that “her” in a photograph was Tanvi herself in younger years. It was really quite charming and, two and half hours later—with an invitation from Ved for Tim & I to return and stay overnight—I was able to take my leave with many sweet blessings seeing me on my way. A final blessing came in the form of a teenage boy that Ved sent to follow me so I didn’t stray from the correct trail. Glancing back from time to time at the outer path of the village of Ramsar I could see Ved watching my progress and we would wave and namaskar to each other.
His watchful eye brought back memories of being on pilgrimage four years ago and having a hotel employee follow me through the streets of Kolkata (without my immediate knowledge) to make sure that I reached my destination for which he had given me directions. I’ve noticed time and again in India that once you make a friend or a connection, even of the casual sort, they will look after you like family.
The engineer did finally arrive Thursday evening around 5pm. Our driver picked up the engineer at the train station. On the ride to Morni Hills our driver pointed out the wind turbine on the hill to the engineer. The engineer later said that he could not believe it was their turbine. How could they have erected it without his guidance?
He immediately wanted to see the site.
Watching them all get in the car at the end of another long day I just prayed that they hadn’t gone too far awry in their work. It was a prayer I am sure that they each carried in their hearts!
In brief, it turns out that after his inspection he stated that he had never seen a better assembly in his 15 years with Unitron, traveling and checking out these sites 52 weeks of the year. Except for a few minor adjustments it was perfect. He simply couldn’t believe it. And it was with relief and joy that they all returned to the hotel and dinner just an hour and a half later.Sad to leave, but needing to return to duties in Gurgaon, I left tranquil Morni Hills Friday morning. On the road from Morni Hills to Chandigarh you can almost imagine that you are in Northern California ~~ and then a monkey will dash across the road!
Arriving in Chandigarh, there was the usual commotion of rickshaws, three-wheelers, buses, trucks, cows, cars, dogs, children, vendors, beggars, and monkeys. Of course, there was also the inevitable road work. As we drove through the chaos in companionable silence (at least within the car), Dharana, commenting on the road work said, “I think India is constantly under construction.”
“On many levels,” I replied.
As this particular Ananda project nears its completion (with many more projects on the horizon), it makes me smile to think how many people’s lives will be enhanced by “two lights and a fan.” It may seem a small thing to those of us accustomed to the material comforts of the west, but to Indian children doing their schoolwork, mothers cooking for their families and fathers providing for the household these basic conveniences are life-changing. And it is a joy to know that as their quality of life is expanded and enhanced not only are lives changed, but the entire country benefits in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine.