I feel like we have turned things around for the better in Buldana on all fronts. The Hindu Gods must be conspiring to ensure the start of our second half of our stay here in Buldana runs much more smoothly than the first! Note to readers: this post will not be like the previous survival posts that deliver everything that is going wrong for our family here in rural India. Instead, I find myself waking early on Monday morning for the start of week #5 here in rural India with positive thoughts and feeling empowered. Woohoo people!
The events listed below have assisted with this turnaround:
- DIY Groceries – we are now fully independent with our shopping – we know where to go and how to get to various grocery outlets in Buldana to purchase quality produce of fruit and vegetables at the weekly Sunday market or at our smaller stalls during the week, we know where to buy meat (if we can stomach it!), we have access to fresh milk, sliced cheese, and bread. This independence makes a huge difference to living.
- DIY Cooking – the amazing thing is that we are all cooking in the kitchen and it is up to all of us to cook something. We are predominantly eating a vegetarian diet, maybe with one or two times a week eating meat (Billie and Steve anyway). I have mastered the art of the stove pressure cooker – so rice is a staple at dinner. And when anyone can’t be bothered cooking it’s ‘whatever’ – toast, noodles etc I’ve never seen all my children cooking their own food so much. It’s great.
- DIY Distance Education – the girls are now making a transition from the world of classroom learning to the world of independent online learning and are more familiar and now capable with the layout and submission process for their online tasks. I have successfully printed out key subject workbooks which makes it easier for them to complete and understand. Steve and I have also wrapped our heads around four differing submission schedules for four different year levels, and now know where to login to receive our children’s submission feedback and report updates. It’s still quite full on – the numbers are not stacked in our favour – but with a healthy dose of laughter every so often and taking the pressure off we are getting through it.
- Roadie Monday – we have found a new home for our adopted street pup Roadie Monday. Since finding him 4 weeks ago, he has given us so much pleasure and fun, but we have been concerned about his future once we depart Buldana and Dacey especially wanted to ensure the best life for him without us. And I’m happy to report that it has all worked out. We visited a local Buldana family who already has another pup called Dolly. Varsha (Dr Moses’ sister), Dacey and I visited their home and happily discovered that Roadie will have not only another furry playmate but also an 11-year old boy to look after and play with him. Now we just need to work out the actual day of handover! Dacey is keen to keep Roadie until Granma and Granpa (my parents Pete & Rob) arrive here in Buldana. I think the apartment will be lonely without Roadie in it, so will try and keep him as long as possible with weekly visits to his new home.
- Listening – it’s a hard ask for two teens and two tweens to accept a life on the road for a whole year with their PARENTS. Plus, the fact that we are spending much of the time together 24/7 adds to the mounting pressure. But a large dose of listening to everyone’s concerns and fears and complaints about life on the road is a must, like listening to their experiencing the effects of culture shock. It goes a long way to maintaining civility and respect in the household. Most of the time we all just want to be heard and understood. Two ears one mouth. More listening and less talking!
- Resourcefulness – the lessons we have learnt as a family on the backpacking road on our previous shorter trips to Vietnam (5 weeks), Myanmar/Burma (4 weeks), Thailand/Cambodia (4 weeks) we have used here in Buldana to assist with our living conditions. The hard living conditions in Buldana over a long period of time (9 weeks all up) has definitely caused more issues around culture shock and alienation and despair for the kids. Our previous travels have assisted us in adjusting to this foreign environment more than if we did not have any previous Asian travel experience under our belts, especially our 4 weeks spent in Burma which has been the closest experience to Buldana but on a much shorter time period.
So this week I wanted to share with you some of the funny and strange things that have happened this week in Buldana:
On the Road with Roadie
Late Sunday afternoon, Varsha came over to take us to a potential new home for Roadie Monday. A woman who works at the Glory Beauty Parlour was talking to Ash the week previously (as Ash got a manicure and pedicure) and mentioned about the street pup we saved and in need of a new Indian home before we depart Buldana. She was interested and seemed to already have a collection of animals at her home including parrots, buffalo, and another dog. So Varsha drove her motorbike over to our apartment and Dacey and I jumped on the back (yes three on a bike is a bit squishy but I held on for dear life) and we enjoyed the exhilaration of a whirlwind ride through the streets of Buldana to Roadie’s potential new home. Dacey sat in between Varsha and me clutching wriggling Roadie in her arms and trying to keep her flip flops from falling off her feet!
We arrived to the home, parked the bike and before we got off it a crowd of people had already gathered to greet us (more selfies and questions). At the front door was a cage full of budgies and to the side of the house a tethered and very plump buffalo. A young boy came out with another pup called Dolly on a lead. She was a bit older and bigger and fluffier than Roadie and wanted to play. It was all good signs already! Roadie was a bit shy at first, but soon started playing with her too. We are so happy that we have found a decent Indian home for our street pup Roadie, now we just have to set a date as to when Roadie Monday will leave us and go to his new Indian home. I think it will be an emotional day for Dacey and me. In the meantime, Roadie is enjoying being walked each day out on the streets and playing tug of war with his new lead.
Photocopying and Pornography
Steve walked up to our trusted photocopying shop on Monday morning to print off Dacey’s next 10 days of Maths and English workbooks. As the printing commenced, the friendly and ever helpful shopkeeper asked Steve to look at the computer screen, and pointed to a display of pornography. In that very moment Steve was aghast thinking the pornography was somehow on our USB which he was trying to work out how the heck it got there. Then the Indian man said, “you want on USB?” with a sickening smirk on his face. Steve looked around and noticed the other men standing around with the same smirk. The penny dropped and Steve realised that the Indian shopkeeper and his onlooking mates were avid watchers of porn at just 10am! The only thing Steve could say was, “No that’s my wife’s USB!”
The men run most of the shops here in rural India. The men actually have most of the jobs outside of the home. It’s a very traditional area where husband’s work and wives stay at home. When we walk down the street there are so many men, just standing around doing nothing. Just standing around. It’s a way of life for these men to sit and stand in groups just looking and doing nothing. The boredom of this place must be diabolical to their brain power. I mean how much time can one person spend doing nothing day in day out? I suppose that’s why the watch porn. Sad really when there is so much brain power under utilised here in rural India.
There are 12 atms in Buldana and they have been empty for the past three days. Many of them are empty or out of service when we really need to withdraw rupee but sometimes we have been lucky. But this week has been the longest without a cash top up. Now we can take out 10,000 rupees ($200) in one transaction, but before Modi’s demonetisation it was 20,000 ($400). Steve drove around to all 12 in one day and none of them worked. The other problem facing our situation is that some atms don’t accept international credit/debit cards either! As he drove around looking for a working atm, he passed the armoured van who was doing the rounds filling each atm with cash and noticed a group of people following it. Each atm is guarded by an elderly man who carries an old hunting double barrel shotgun to ward off robbers (it is true). We have seen double barrels, sawn off shotguns, and rifles as a means to keep the robbers at bay. Here it looks and feels more like the wild west with these types of guns on site.
The guard leisurely leans on his shotgun, while Steve chats to the man topping about the process of topping up the atms – it takes about 20-30 minutes to load one up. And with 12 in this town, it takes a while to get the job done. The people come to the atm like bees to a honey pot, and long queues form and people can be seen waiting outside bank doors and atms for hours!
Welcome to Hinduland
On Tuesday of this week we decided to take a 1.5 hour drive out to see one of the largest Hindu Temples in the Maharashtra State – Shegaon. The roads there were pot holed and bumpy, lots of braking suddenly to avoid accidents (I think we nearly had three!), and there was nowhere to stop on the way. We buy tickets (50 rupee each) and arrive at the entrance gate and there’s a problem with Steve taking in his hand-held video camera. Everyone else can take in their camera and iPhones, even the GoPro was accepted. What the? So Steve was escorted back to the locker room and charged 5 rupees for storage while we waited on the inside of the gate under the shade of the large pylon entrance. He returns and we explore what we think is going to be a more spiritually oriented Hindu Temple site. But we are so wrong. Inside, after walking past the large white naked sculpture of the guru they worship, we enter to what can be best described as a smaller version of Disneyland. I name this place ‘Hinduland’!
There is a man-built cave with an aquarium inside, a train ride, an array of playground equipment – swings, slides, merry-go rounds, food counters and a restaurant, and men in little white uniforms sweeping, cleaning, and blowing their whistles at people who walk on the finely manicured lawn. But where is the HINDU TEMPLE? We do finally find the small temple and walk around it – guarded by four sculptures of bulls lying down with their testes hanging out from under them. The girls found it disgusting as these bulls were facing the temple while their other bits faced us! Thousands of school children were playing and eating masala ice-creams and pointing at the group of foreigners – us! We were less enthused about our day out, but took a train ride which took people on a 15-minute ride that looked out into a brown paddock with sculptures of African animals and a kangaroo – WHY? Because it’s ‘Hinduland’ and nothing quite makes sense here. A long and taxing day out with not much gained except that we now know that the Indians can keep a place clean and pristine looking if they want to.
Hindu Indian Gods
It’s a foreign concept for us to know that the Hindus have millions of Gods they believe in and many of them look like cartoon characters – blue skin, elephant head, multiple limbs. If you are a Christian in the western world you are monotheistic – there is only ONE God. If you are a Muslim, there is almighty Allah. If you are a Buddhist, there is Buddha. This Hindu God business, to an outsider, can seem extremely fickle and confusing, especially when there are millions of gods in existence. We’re told by Hindu Indians that we are perceived as Gods to them here where they want to touch you, take a photo with you, have you be in their homes. It feels a little far-fetched to say the least! But with 79% of the Indian population being Hindu, that’s over 1 million people (based on 2015 data), I feel it’s a religion that needs to be understood while we’re here.
So what is Hinduism religion anyway?
Hinduism is more than a religion – it’s a culture, a way of life, and a code of behaviour that Hindus follow. It is a philosophy of life. Hinduism has no historical founder and its authority rests instead upon a large body of sacred texts that provide Hindus with rules governing rituals, worship, pilgrimage, and daily activities, among many other things. Although the oldest of these texts may date back four thousand years, the earliest surviving Hindu images and temples were created some two thousand years later.
Hindus believe in many gods, but preference one without disbelieving the others. They also hold the belief in the universal law of cause and effect (karma) and reincarnation and a belief in the possibility of liberation and release (moksha) by which the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara) can be resolved. Pretty cool stuff hey!
Hinduism is also bound to the hierarchical structure of the caste system, a system that categorises members of society into defined social classes. An individual’s position in the caste system is thought to be a reflection of accumulated merit in past lives (karma). Our friend here Dr Moses originally came from the lowest of the caste social classes, and told us that many Hindu temples ask for surname before entering. This allows for the continual discrimination of lower caste people as temple authorities turn away lower caste individuals from entering their Hindu temples.
But it got me thinking who are the traditional Hindu Gods and what do they represent to so many millions of Hindu Indians?
This is taken straight from a Google search:
“Known as Brahman, this sacred, yet rather vague, divinity is represented in many different Hindu gods. The three most important are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Being the creator god, Brahma’s name sounds very similar to the divine entity known as Brahman. It is Brahma who brought all things into being.”
In all shops we enter here there is small temple set up with incense burning. It’s a place for Hindus to pray and give offerings to their god. Usually if you look around the room, there is a picture of their god hanging up over a doorway as a sign of their deity – Shiva is a blue skinned man with dread locks, Ganesha is a small child with an elephant’s head, and there are even goddesses in the Hindu religious order! This is a very small introduction to the main Hindu gods.
Lord Brahma – has four heads and is the creator of the Hindu god. These four heads came the four Vedas (the most ancient religious texts for Hindus). Some also believe that the caste system, or four varnas, came from different parts of Brahma’s body. He has four arms and is usually depicted with a beard. Brahma is one of the three major gods of Hindus: Brahma the creator of the whole universe, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. All three of make up the Trimurti.
Lord Vishnu – is the second god in the Hindu triumvirate. In mythology, Vishnu is worshipped as a preserver and restorer. According to Hindu tradition, he reigns in heaven with his wife, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. He is usually depicted as four-armed and blue-skinned.
Goddesses – Vishnu was married to Lakshmi (the goddess of good fortune), Sarawati (the goddess of wisdom) and Ganga (the goddess who is the personification of the River Ganges). However, unable to live with the quarrels between his three wives, Vishnu eventually sent Ganga to Shiva and Sarawati to Brahma.
Lord Shiva – is the third god in the Hindu triumvirate. Shiva is the Supreme being who creates, protects and transforms the universe. He is the most important Hindu god for the Shaivism sect, the patron of Yogis and Brahmins, and also the protector of the Vedas, the sacred texts.
Lord Ganesh – is one of the important Hindu festivals celebrated throughout India with a great devotion. This day is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. People bring idols of Lord Ganesh to their homes and do worship. Lord Ganesh is the symbol of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune.
Hanuman – is commonly referred to in the West as the monkey god. Hanuman is regarded as a perfect symbol of selflessness and loyalty. Worship of Hanuman helps the individual to counter the bad karma borne out of selfish action, and grants the believer fortitude and strength in his or her own trials during the journey of life.
Remember there are 330 million plus other gods in the Hindu faith…we’ll keep it simple!
Life for Young People in Rural India: Chatting with Miss S
So now that you know about the predominance of the Hindu religion in India, Hinduism also represents a majority of the social side of life here in rural India as well. Honestly, there is diddly squat to do here (note: from our perspective). Life here is ultra-simple and ultra-conservative – men work outside of the home, women perform the home duties, and children attend school. Anything outside of that is either a wedding, a Bollywood movie, an election (only the men celebrate in the streets), or a family religious gathering. There are also cricket games being played by the boys and henna gatherings with the girls. For young people life is all about family and school and their Hindu gods.
Life’s routine here can be seen repeated over and over each day. I wake at 7.30am and view the morning routine outside the side door of our apartment which faces another block of units. Husband’s jump on their motorbikes and zoom off to work while wives stay home washing clothes, hanging them over the balconies to dry. Young children in their school uniforms are delivered to school in overcrowded tuk tuks, with many older students walking to school together or riding their bicycles. I watch them all come and go following their daily weekday ritual. School is attended six days per week and it’s a fairly intense schedule – Monday to Friday 7 subjects are studied, and Saturday only 5 subjects. I chatted at length to a young girl called Miss S who lives near us in Buldana and she says Sunday is a day off, but mostly her parents want her head in a book either to complete homework or study more to BECOME something.
School starts at 7:30am until 12pm, then they have a two-hour break and return to school from 2:00pm until 6:30pm. School here means everything to PARENTS. It’s a ticket for family financial security and prosperity. They push their children to study and perform at school and in exams. I’ve noticed all over social media lately an array of ads telling parents to not pressure their children so much at exam time. Depression, anxiety, and suicide are common here in rural India. Parents want a level of prestige from their children – they are told to forget about their passions and to concentrate on their studies to become doctors, engineers, pharmacists, and public servants.
It will be interesting to see what happens to the next generation of young girls who are growing up with equal (well sort of) opportunity and access to education. Miss S’s father wants her to be a doctor. But when I ask her what happens to her job/career when her parents arrange her marriage, she shrugs her shoulders. All the women here are wives, which means they stay at home and look after children and home. How will this change for you? Will you get a say in keeping your career while you are married? These questions go all unanswered, as there is no answer…yet. These young girls are smart and articulate. Can you believe that Miss S learnt to speak English from a dictionary and watching English movies? She comes over and sits in our kitchen and we chat about all these subjects that will most likely negatively impact on her life.
The topic of love is a hard one. All marriages are arranged here, so to even mention love is a serious sign of misconduct. Miss S tells me she’d prefer to fall in love with someone rather than have to accept an arranged version from her family. She has sweethearts too, but if her father ever found out, “he’d kill me!” Miss S’s brother also has a girlfriend. The two siblings share their hidden romances with each other knowing that their parents would be quite unhappy with their children, angry even, if they ever found out their secret. There seems to be a black market in love relationships here in Buldana, they’re happening all around us even though they’re not paraded out in the public domain. When Miss S asks my four daughters if they have boyfriends, she is shocked that even a 12-year old has had one. I feel for these vibrant and smart young people, for their futures and for the fight they must take on if they are to change their customs and traditions and bring about any amount of social change. So much negative energy is invested in keeping girls under control here. It’s about time they removed that piece of “honour” that somehow got directed to be placed inside a female’s body and it now needs to be shared around with the boys.
I ask Miss S what she does for fun – and it’s a strange word because it does not translate as easy as it would for any of my children. She thinks, but nothing comes from it. I ask if she goes to the movies – “yes during school time, with my friends sometimes, but I have to get permission from my father to go there outside of school.” Parents rule their children closely and tightly. Fathers are the head of families and girls must seek permission from their fathers to do almost anything (again from my perspective talking one on one with these young girls). I enquire and if not? Miss S’s head turns, a sign of not understanding. I explain – if you don’t get your father’s permission to do things what happens? Her response saddens me, “I am scared of my father, he may hurt me if I do not get permission.” Swati’s father is a policeman and is married with two children – Swati is the same age and studying the same year level as our eldest daughter Charlie. She is the youngest of the two at 16 years and her brother is 18 who is going off to train in the Indian Army – a very prestigious opportunity and one that many young men and women do not reach – even though her brother is not the studious type he is good with his hands. Miss S’s father tells her real life stories of the many fathers who beat up their daughters to keep them in line, keep them controlled, to maintain the family honour of having girls do what is expected of them. Good girls. Obedient girls. Compliant girls. Traditional girls. I can see girls are trained to be submissive to their fathers, and when they get married that submission is automatically transferred to their husbands. Women are still possessions here no matter how you look it at. I know it sounds like a crazy idea, but to empower girls and women in this country is to empower the nation itself. To unleash women from archaic and traditional forms of social exclusion and private torment is to get women more involved in everyday life outside of the home. Let them be active in the public domain. Whatever they do, it’s a long road to transformation and I do not envy them whatsoever.
As for young boys and men, who stand around doing nothing much most of the day on the streets we walk on, they need to be unleashed too. We visit villages on the outskirts of Buldana and always there are young men doing nothing much. Just standing around. Wasting the day. They are not studying, nor working. So what are they doing then? Men seem to channel their frustrations into whiskey here. There is also a brown sugar problem throughout India. Just yesterday Steve visited the local Wine Shop (that’s its name) at about 5:30pm. The Wine Shop is nothing like a fancy Dan Murphy’s, but an open front shop with a long bench where alcohol sales are made. And yesterday at 5:30pm, when work was over for another day, the Wine Shop was packed! Men flinging out their rupee notes for small bottles of whisky which were being thrown on the bench their way. More like a crazy auction house than a liquor store. It’s common for families to go without if the man of the house spends all his cash on whiskey. It’s common amongst the poorer families, especially those living in slum areas for this type of thing to occur daily and a fertile ground for domestic violence. The cycle of poverty, abuse and violence seems never ending. But these rural Indians continue to live their lives, mostly unaware of how anyone else in the world lives, behaves and dreams. But with their small towns getting bigger ideas from the nearby large towns of Aurangabad and Pune and even further west Mumbai, young people in rural Buldana are starting to realise just how culturally conditioned they are and tiny changes are starting like 16-year old Miss S being able to wear t-shirts (her father gives her permission) and pants rather than the tradition cover it up attire. But Miss S tells me, her mother is not allowed to wear the clothes I am wearing – T-shirt and jeans because her in-laws won’t allow it! It’s traditional sari for many housewives, a sign of being dominated and controlled by traditional family customs.
Coming up next…
We have my parents Peter and Robyn coming to stay in Buldana! They’re arriving Saturday evening and we are all excited about seeing them and catching up. They’re staying at a local hotel up the road for two weeks then heading to New Delhi for a couple of days. Can’t wait to see them!