This afternoon I hiked up a nearby mountain to a little village, one of countless such villages that have no road access. Actually, I’d say that they are, on the whole, better off for being out of the way. They clearly care for their village, which is neat and tidy, no garbage littering the paths. The air up there is pure as there is nothing at all to pollute it.
They were holding a celebration in honor of a local devata, Shesh Nag. Such celebrations are extremely common in this area. Almost every day, you can see some procession traversing the mountain paths with one devatæ or another, sponsored by some villager or other. From village to village they go, usually at least a dozen or two people, some with drums and horns and other paraphernalia. It’s a delightful sight. As they move along, people may come up for blessings or to give a small donation.
When I arrived, the women were busily engaged in making chapatis in a makeshift kitchen in the courtyard of an unfinished house that was covered in big tarps that billowed in the wind. They must have produced several hundred just in the hour or so I was was there, but there was a huge basket that was already quite full even when I arrived.
A few men were in the unfinished room behind them, stirring huge pots of dal and vegetables and who knows what else. There was an enormous pot of rice and the inevitable cauldron of chai, as well. Since the village only has about 50 or so residents, obviously many people were coming from surrounding villages as the amount of food was far more than 50 people could consume.
The chapati-making was an assembly line operation. One lady would grab a big hunk of dough from in a big pan and roll it into little balls before passing it on to a lady with a rolling pin who would give it to someone else to put on the tawa (flat iron pan), which was big enough for four or five at a time. When it was done on both sides, someone would take it off and put it directly on the coals or even in the fire for a short time to puff up before it was whisked off to the waiting basket. There were maybe three or four such operations going on simultaneously.
They mentioned that they would also be making parathas, but that operation hadn’t started yet. No doubt there were people making the sweets somewhere, but that may have been in the men’s area, where I was not invited to go. Just as well as it was pretty hot out anyway and it must have been really toasty in there with all the big fires blazing away.
Some older men lounged around by the devata, and there were quite a few young children running and playing nearby.
What really impressed me was the warm community feeling. This was an intimate group, everyone knowing everyone really well. It felt happy and harmonious. Though it seems inevitable that there must be some rivalries there, I couldn’t detect any conflict in the atmosphere at all, nor did I see any bullying among the children. Everyone seemed happy and content to be where they were.
Growing up in the US in a little family of four with my father’s parents down the street, as I did, I never experienced such a community. The town where I lived was big enough that I was hardly acquainted with even 1% of the residents. I doubt that most Westerners could even conceive of a life like this. It’s a simple, slow life. Nothing to hurry about. Everyone knows what they have to do and does it.
The people in this village are mostly farmers, though a few work in larger villages some distance away. The children walk a kilometer or two down the mountain to get to school, but it is certainly no hardship to traverse the lovely mountain path, with berries to be picked along the way. How much more delightful than riding a school bus! While they may not have all the modern technology up there, they certainly have other advantages, and I think that most are content where they are.
For these villagers, there is nothing more important than relationships. The modern world, dominated by digital communications, has all but lost the art of building and maintaining genuine relationships like these. It’s a huge loss to life. Being surrounded by people like this, even though I know I will never truly be part of their community, is an immense delight. It keeps me grounded.
I would have loved to stay, but it would have meant walking down the mountain through the forest in the dark, and that didn’t seem like such a good idea. I feel really safe in this area, but that might be pushing it a bit.