A little palm squirrel sits on the road, in the opposite lane. Jagdish slows and beeps, sending the little animal scurrying to a safer location. Three doves get the same treatment, the same respect. Jagdish is a gardener, but his concerns extend beyond plants. We continue towards the Barda Hills and Kileswar.
“One o'clock,” he says, pointing to his watch.
I shower—the cold water's bearably pleasant—wash my hair and my shirt and am just about to hang the shirt to dry when the military man returns. At midday. “One o'clock,” we gather, means, “in one hour's time.”
During the night a bat eats part of two of our bananas. I assume it was a bat—I hope it was a bat. I did hear many dogs barking, but nothing identifiable as a leopard, although this is leopard country and the military man had assured us he's seen one just behind the Maharaja's enclave one evening. The night eventually grew cool, and for the first time since Mt Abu, I crawled into my sleeping bag.
Wind rattles shutters and doors all night; the hooks and eyes holding open the shutters squeak. A rat eats the remains of the small bar of green ayurvedic soap from my handbasin and leaves two droppings in return. In the morning we sit and read at each end of the long hall. Heavy wooden armchairs and a settee at each end; tapestry upholstery. I read The Gangster We Are All Looking For, and we both wait for breakfast. When it comes, puri and a potato dish with a bite, we finish it all, for the first time.
At dawn the wailing cries of peafowl echo around the guest house, the stone walls, the ruined buildings, like a lament for memories; for what, even now as I lie listening, half asleep, is being lost. How different will this place and its people be ten years from now? When will the great change come, and what will bring it? Electricity and television, so the children can grow up seeing a fantastic—mostly in the pejorative sense—world, so they see what they think they're denied by living here? Education, which will unlock some of the doors currently keeping them here? People like us, whose presence suggests a wider world to be explored? Dissatisfaction can be one of the consequences of curiosity; perhaps, to know how lucky you are, you must find out for yourself how less fortunate others are. Living a simple life because you grew up like that differs from living a simple life because you've chosen it:
In order to arrive at what you are notPerhaps this is what I’m doing. Trying to find the simplicity to deal with what happens as it arises; travelling without expectations; carrying my life with me. But simplicity is relative, and here, for me, temporary. I lie half asleep, listening to the peafowl, knowing I’ll soon leave; knowing I’ll leave this world of birds and leopards, cattle and buffalo, the still, glittering lake, and old women yoked to kerosene cans of well water. Drying dung and churning milk. Soon I’ll leave, and re-enter the complex world. I have no idea what of me will remain.
You must go through the way in which you are not.
1 Kileswar is often (perhaps usually) spelled "Kileshwar", a more phonetic spelling for English speakers. I've used "Kileswar" because this is the spelling on the identification plate of the Guest House.
2. Manilkara zapotilla, Sapotaceae.
3. Black ibis, Pseudibis papillosa; tailor bird, Orthotomus sutorius; magpie robin, Copsychus saularis; common babbler, Turdoides caudatus; red-vented bulbul, Pycnonotus cafer; koel, Eudynamys scolopacea; rufous treepie, Dendrocitta vagabunda; paradise flycatcher, Terpsiphone paradisi.
4. Pronounced “SAY juh”. I confess to not knowing how to spell his name. “Bhai” ("BUY-ee") seems to be a term of respect, much like the Japanese “san”, I suppose.
5. Ketupa zeylonensis
6. Ardeola grayii
7. Vanellus indicus
8. Mycteria leucocephala9. T.S. Eliot. Four Quartets (East Coker). P. 201 in Collected Poems 1909–1962. London, Faber & Faber (1963). 238 Pp. ISBN 0 571 05549 4. I chose this rather than the over-quoted “We shall not cease from exploration...” for two reasons: first, the latter quotation is over-quoted, and second, the quotation I’ve used has a depth and complexity that appeals to me.
Photos (click on the smaller photos to enlarge them):
1. The man at the first household, where I churned milk and was laughed at until I got the knack.
2. One of the kids at the village at Kileswar. I wanted to do something different with this photo, so I played around with it in Lightroom and Elements.
3. One of the babblers that regularly checked us out at the table by the temple.
4. The brown fish-owl. The photo's heavily cropped, as the owl was a long way off, on the far side of the gully.
5. Mother and child at the last household.
6. This is grandfather. Everyone's grandfather, I think.
7. One of his grandkids, I assume.
8. Oriental magpie robin.
Photos and words © 2007 Pete McGregor