The next day, Sunday, which was day 2 of Holi, I had breakfast with Dick, and the 2 Australian film makers, Kylie and Mezz. They had come to shoot a documentary about the school and do a pro bono promo video for would-be sponsors. Check out their videos here. Kylie and Mezz had, last night, in their journalistic enthusiasm escaped into the celebrations with their camera. The scuffle I heard was the staff in a failed attempt to secure them.
This was a unique opportunity to see a slice of local culture and peek into the homes and lives of real people, not as tourists, but as guests. In the afternoon, the 4 of us and 2 other volunteers at the school went a-visiting for Holi. At the vilage of Amwan, Dick expertly parked the Maruti jeep at the side of the tiny path. He would qualify as a taxi driver even in Jakarta. We stepped around cow patties and goat droppings. The houses here were of bricks and mud bricks. There were also some mud houses. Dung patties were drying on the external walls. They would just peel off or were scraped off when dry. Rajkishore’s was the first stop. We ascended a dark stairwell on to the first floor. It had several rooms leading off an open courtyard. He is the senior teacher at the Maitreya school, and has the aura of a very decent being. He invited us to a delicious lunch of curry and puri, followed by a special holi dish made up pulse and I think, buttermilk. Subsequently, we saw more of this dish than desired. The family came to annoint our foreheads and feet in a brilliant green.
At some point, we visited Soni, a student at the school, a very beautiful girl around 15. She wore a dimpled smile, an apple green dress and her jet black hair in perfect braids. She was very articulate in English and had the sweet, shy manner of a favourite pupil. More green powder on our faces and feet. We sat on a bed in the half covered courtyard. There were 2 other small rooms and an open area that served as bathroom and laundry. I reckon the entire space was about the size of my bedroom in Zurich. They seemed to be humble but dignified people. Both Soni and her sister Khusboo go to the Maitreya school while their brother Arjit does not. There is a policy to take only at most 2 kids from the same family. There are aparently over 600 applications for a kindergarten class of 25. Mind boggling. While Mez is filming, Arjit sulks in the room with the small tv and a bed. The kids’ father used to own a metal workshop but had to give it up to drive an auto-rickshaw as business was bad. The mom works partime at the school as a craft teacher. There are several village women with tailoring and artisan skills who teach there. We were served simple but lovely food and a very fragrant and immensely sweet chai that the mom was making on the floor in the kitchen corner. The chai, made with tea, boiled milk, butter and a lot of sugar is usually taken in small quantities. It’s beginning to look like there’s a 2-dish minimum, first a sweet and then something spicy. There’s also a tray of little snacks.
As we were about to leave, Soni invited us to the roof to enjoy the view of the hills and trees. Trees are good. Trees are scarce here. The roof was reached by a heavy metalwork ladder perched unsecured in front of the open area. My legs turned to jelly on going up and I wondered how the heck I was going to get down. On the roof, patties of dung and straw lay drying on one side. The wheat and rice are dried on the other side away from the fuel. At a sheltered corner, there sat a stove where the remains of a cooking fire quietly rest. Pretty soon neighbours appeared, and a group of determined looking youngsters jumped over the low dividing wall and came at us full throttle to do the colour thing.
At the little hamlet where Vanita (another pupil) lives, we were received in the backyard. Vanita’s grandad, a grand gentleman of 92 came and sat with us smiling his almost toothless smile. The family cows grazed nonchalant while 3 very pink dogs jumped in and hung out under the table. A couple of inebriated uncles hugged and seriously smeared us. A cousin turned up the hindi music. The girls in the family all beautifully dressed in white embroidered salwar kameez shuttled in and out with the tea and other goodies. Around us the paddi fields, with the rice calf high shimmered and swished.
At 7.30pm, we pulled up to Achanna’s house. She had been waiting for us all day. She lives in town in a startlingly blue 3 storey brick building in a typical extended family situation. They owned several businesses, which might explain the relative wealth. Her cousin, who was learning Chinese and more than a little drunk started to practise with me. Finally as we were so full we were about to pop (as my nephews would say), Dick made an executive decision and we started to leave. Achanna and her cousin pressed us to come again the next day as the whole family walked us out to the jeep. The neighbourhood show up for a bit of a close up and the kids ask to be photographed. I have to say I was all ‘holi-ed’ out.