Monday, November 07, 2005

Villa-ge Experience

Whew. Finally. It wasn’t exactly like a writer’s block. But if my life depended on whether I’d call it some kind of block or not, I’d perhaps call it a worker’s block. Also, come to think of it, introspection tells me that the delay had more to do with the fact that this time around I’ve some cool photographs to go with the post and I subconsciously felt the pressure of having to match the pictures which are as we all know worth a 1000 words and for responding to the ‘pressure’ I needed more time than I could make till date. I myself have been looking forward to this post a lot as a lot went into the trip and more came out. Okay. I wouldn’t want to end up talking more about the making of the post than the post per se. So, let’s ‘Roger Out’.
The post is about: My trip to the village. The second this year. (First Trip)
The purpose of the trip was: To read, relax and chill out.
The experience/results: It paid off. It was a cool reading trip with the added bonus of some good bird-watching. And I certainly chilled out and forgot about everything else, well almost… :-)

The books I took along with me – Learning to Fly, The Art of Innovation, Blink, Seven Habits, The Effective Executive, Nothing by Chance, C&H (Baby Sitter Stories). When I reached home, I immediately arranged all the books on the reading table and rummaged around the drawers to see what was there and discovered a book on Gandhi’s Teachings and Philosophies by C.Rajaji (Another reward that my mom got for her performance in school). I promptly added that to my pile of books and started off my reading sojourn. From then on it was a continuous marathon till I finished 3 books – Learning to Fly, The Art of Innovation and Blink. The first book is by ex-BP employees on BP’s KM initiatives. Extremely practical book. If it were related to the world of food and eating, I’d say it is a ready-to-eat food served on a plat(t)e(r) in a fast-food restaurant. Practitioners would be thrilled. The Art of Innovation made for some fun-reading. I enjoyed it immensely as the style is pretty informal and I love the subject of innovation. This one too is a practical experience. And finally, Blink – this one was easy to read but I found myself asking too many questions and more disturbingly not finding what one could call concrete answers. It made good food for thought but I still have a lot of unfinished thoughts and questions on the concepts that this book dwells upon. (I’ll probably be putting up the gist of all these books – seen from my perspective – on this blog down the line). I also visited 3 beautiful local temples in the evenings (before taking a one-day break at the ‘end’ of 3 books). The evening walks to the local temples were all a very pleasant experience. Apart from the scenic beauty that was presented to me, it gave my neck and eyes a well-deserved break in the evenings. After 3 books, I took a whole day’s break and went to a very famous temple in a neighbouring village. That too was a cool experience as we went by the village bus, cruising through small villages and stopping to pick up many villagers on the way. The hustle-bustle in a village somehow has a softer feel and genuineness and an authenticity that you can’t see in cities don’t you think? After the one-day break, I came back and finished the book on Gandhi’s Teachings and Philosophies and then started Seven Habits (Stephen Covey). But just when I was beginning to rejoice that I’d have finished 5 books before leaving for Bangalore, I sprained my back as well as caught a cold and couldn’t read anymore of the last book. :-(. I was able to continue with the book only after returning to Bangalore. And about the 3 other books that I lugged along with me - I could not touch them and wasn’t surprised about that either. I knew I was carrying more books than I would be able to read.

Okay, here are some excerpts from other experiences I had – the birds I saw, the people I met….

On the very first day, I saw two wonderful and unique looking birds on my way into the village. The ‘darshan’ lasted only a few seconds but I’ve sort of captured them in my mental camera. Both these birds were sitting on stones that were part of the barbed-wire fences around cultivated land touching the road. I was in the bus but alert and was appropriately rewarded with these unexpected sneak previews to what was to be a lengthy affair of more bird-watching that lasted the whole holiday. I don’t know what birds they were but here’s a brief description. If my descriptions are good enough for you to recognize them, please throw some light and let me know what birds you think they could be…

1. Black head and body, yellow neck, white belly – small-medium in size
2. Grayish body and green belly – medium in size

Continuing on the topic of birds, through the holiday, I got to see a lot of birds and these undoubtedly gave me a lot of inspiration and breaks from continuous reading – Pattering Parrots, Many Mynas, Eager Eagles, Elusive Egrets, Dancing Doves, Diving Ducks, Tiny Tantalizing birds that I named Tweety (was it a Minivet?), another type of bird that I suspect may have been a Swallow/Shrike/Bush Cat (established bird-watchers, please forgive me for taking the liberty of guessing without the backing of sound knowledge/experience) in the same order of probability.

3. Description of ‘Tweety’ - tiny, longish tail – brownish yellow sides, white belly and dark ash-gray-colored body – very pretty and extremely fast and difficult to spot because of the size and speed. Chirping style – shrill, short and continuous ‘beep’ sounds. I was lucky enough to catch sight of these birds many a time as there was a teak-wood tree with a lot of flowers in the neighbouring compound which not only seemed to attract these birds but also an army of butterflies through the day. All I had to do was to go up to the terrace and fix my gaze on the teak-wood tree to see these birds. But it was a difficult exercise for the eyes to spot them. And any efforts to see them at close quarters turned out to be a failure as they flew away the second they sensed me. (I saw only 2 of these birds every time and I suspect that it was the same pair that I got to see every time)

4. Description of what I think could be a Swallow/Shrike/Bush Cat - medium sized, large belly, light brown and yellow coloured body. Beautiful chirping sound that I can’t possibly explain in words. These were the first birds I saw after I settled down for my reading and the introduction to these birds was so dramatic that it could beat the opening scene in a movie based on birds. I sat down on the steps leading to the verandah at the back of the house and began reading when I suddenly heard a series of beautiful chirping sounds and looked up to find 4 of these birds lined up on the tall compound. And what followed was almost mesmerizing. They all hopped sideways in quick succession and turned 90 degrees to their right (showing their sides to me) after every 3-4 hops while chirping along. They did this till the length of the compound till they reached the end of the compound and then flew away into the garden next door. It was such a perfect dance that I almost stopped breathing so I’d not frighten them away :). But as it turned out I was not destined to see another such performance again and was left yearning for it for the rest of the holiday. My guess is that these birds visit the house regularly and did so this time around only to realize that some humans had intruded into their privacy and decided not to come again till it was vacated. :( Sigh. But I managed to catch sight of these early birds coming in for their worms almost every day as they came for their food to the deserted garden next door. The photographs I know are pathetic. The birds are available in the photograph if you care to spot them. But I needed a camera with a zoom-in facility to catch them next door. Maybe next time around, I will take along a digicam and be able to catch them bang on.

As for the other birds, they weren’t so very elusive…except the Egrets to a certain extent. I saw plenty of parrots in the small Murugan temple near my house where they seemed to live. Mynas were all over the place. So were the Doves and Eagles. I got to see most of these birds whenever I trudged up to the terrace in the evenings. It was only on the third day of my holiday that as I looked skyward, I thought I saw some birds that looked different and extremely beautiful in flight. They were flying in groups of 3 or more – in a V formation. They were white in colour but had visible but narrow patches of brown at the origin of their wings as seen from below. The novice that I am, it took me a few minutes to realize that they were Egrets. The experience was enchanting. They look beautiful. On one particular day, later, I actually spotted them just a few feet above me on the terrace and enjoyed the close-up immensely. Unfortunately, I did not have immediate access to my camera to capture the scene and do think that I may have not been able to capture it even if I had had one in my hands, due to the quickness of the moment.
Okay. Let me move on to other topics. Here’s a teaser. In my village, one common business that people are into is that of rice-flour grinding. For the uninitiated, rice-flour is the staple food in south India and is ground into a semi-liquid paste used to cook Rice (Idly) Cakes and Dosas which are had for breakfast and dinner. What do you think could be the reason why this is a popular business? Initially I was wondering why it was given that the situation in the village is not akin to the city where people do not have the time to grind rice-flour into a paste. So, if it’s not the time factor which is the constraint, what is it that promotes this business? I found out what it was from my mom. Would you like to take a guess? Actually, the explanation is very very simple. I’ll come back tomorrow/day after and put up the reason(s).

Update - Here’s why this is a popular business: A grinder costs ‘only’ Rs.3000/- but for a villager, that is expensive. She is too poor to own a grinder and instead finds it cheaper to buy rice-flour paste for as little as Rs.10/- and this is enough to feed 4 people for a day. Also, on the occasion of festivals and functions, the outsourcing of the grinding of rice-flour is essential as the deals are in large quantities.

Nagu, the amazing workaholic, was back to help mom with her household chores. I’ve already said a lot about her but there were more incidents that reiterated her philosophies and approach toward life that I want to mention here. When my mom gave her a few containers that were stylish and told her to store her things in the containers, she simply looked at them and said “I don’t want these. I don’t need them”. When my mom asked her one more time to take it, she said “One should not be greedy. I don’t need this”. Little did she realize that she had astounded an onlooker. When my mom later pressed a bag and Diwali Sarree into her hands, she took them and smiled her way out to the road. It was later that we heard from one of our neighbours that when the latter had stopped her after seeing a broad smile on her face, Nagu had grinned and showed her the bag and Sarree and when the neighbour told her that they were nice, she asked her if she wanted the bag! She was apparently very happy about the gifts but was ready to give away the bag when someone told her it was nice! She would keep only the Sarree because it was essential. Or maybe she would have given that away as well if some one had specifically asked her for it. This natural workaholic who has only 2 light meals a day is worth more than a biography.

The next story that I want to share is inspiring as well. The director in me wants to give it a title just to make it a little dramatic. I shall call it ‘The Making of the Murukkus’ (Murukkus are a deep-fried south Indian delicacy made out of rice flour, urad daal flour and other ingredients): Amrutha Akka as she is popularly known in the village is no mean businesswoman. She apparently makes anywhere between RS.500 to Rs.1000 a day by making ‘Murukkus’ and a few other popular delicacies. She is perhaps 65+ years old and has a pet cat called Meena (whom she calls Meeni). She employs fewer than 10 women to make the Murukkus and other eatables and a few youngsters for odd jobs. She runs the business herself (CEO, CFO et al) and has unfortunately/fortunately no heirs. (I say fortunately because heirs may end up splitting businesses these days) Her home (a glorified hut) is almost covered completely with sacks of raw material – her inventory – and cooked eatables – the products – and a TV. She has some free space which she uses to place 2 chairs for her customers and to quickly and efficiently pack the orders (that range from 1 to 1000s) with the help of one of her ‘employees’. Local village kids run in and ask for one or two of the chosen delicacy while families coming in from the cities into the village for weddings/festivals order 1000s. She insists on advance orders and delivers on time. The quality has been good mostly but there have been some orders that were not up to the mark, which she promptly denies. She poses for me with her cat, Meena. Also shown is the place where the Murukkus are made. Hers is a clear success story. She does not market/advertise and sales are completely through word-of-mouth channels. I think there’s a lot that idle/unemployed and pessimistic youth and people in general have to learn from her.

If you thought I was done, let me tell you that, in my perception, the most amazing part of the trip is yet to come. I think it is the most amazing part as it is almost unbelievable. It was what happened at the virtual end of the trip. At the end of the journey back to Bangalore! The climax, so to say! I came into my home in Bangalore and went into the washroom and turned on the tap and bent down to wash my face when I heard a series of continuous beep sounds and almost froze. It sounded like ‘Tweety’. I lifted my head and looked out of the window at the Mango tree outside as if expecting the tree to bring up the next moment quickly and unfreeze me…and nature did not fail me. A tiny bird that seemed to be a distant cousin of the bird that I was so tantalized by in my village flew down from somewhere and alighted on the branch of the mango tree that was in direct view of the window. The bird stayed on the branch for 4 seconds while chirping continuously before flying away. I was stunned beyond action or words. It was as if nature wanted to please me and specifically make me aware that birds that are very similar to the bird that I so admired in the village live in the city as well and visit my own garden in particular. The experience was Alchemistic in nature – one goes looking for something in a far-off place only to finally realize that what one wants was available right there in one’s regular habitat. But of course, it is the trip to that far-off land that adds to the experience and learning and brings about the awareness of what one wants. But let me tell you that I stood rooted and frozen to the spot for quite some time after the bird gave me a dekho. I don’t know if you believe this episode, but believe me; I myself was not able to believe it and seriously considered it be a hallucination of sorts in the beginning. Since then, I couldn’t lay my eyes on the bird till yesterday (thank God for Sundays)– I heard the bird chirp and went out quietly and stealthily and spent quite some time crouched below the mango tree to watch this perky little bird play around on the leafy branches. I will probably set up a camp under the mango tree every week and watch this guy go about his life in an animated manner…. Life is dramatic indeed. Tweet tweet!


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