We have been staying indoors more than ever lately due to the heat wave that has made its home here in rural India and looks like it won’t be departing before we do next week. So we get out in the late afternoons. Charlie, Ash, Moses and I drove down to a place not far out of town called Sunset Point. Since Buldana is situated 640m above sea level, just standing here at Sunset Point and looking out over the valley and towards the mountains before me is a wonderfully invigorating and reflective experience. The landscape right now is brown and barren, but I’m told that when the rains come the outlook transforms into a green oasis. There are no defined clouds in the sky either today; just a blur of haze that spreads itself across the entire skyline. The fuming ball of a sun makes itself present and we watch it slip away between the mountains in the west.
Sunset Point is a place that many local people also come to visit to be with nature and breathe in the quiet peaceful air that is far enough away from the chaotic streetscape of Buldana. It’s also a place for sincere contemplation. To just sit and look out to the commanding valley and horizon draws out people’s thoughts of big visions and bold ideas. To sit and imagine life, your one little life, in this big, crazy world is often overlooked and undervalued. Others come here just for a fun selfie with friends and then leave their opportunity for contemplation behind. Maybe someone else who desires it more can pick it up next time.
In India I think the value of any place is in its ability to hold peace and quiet for an extended period of time. Not seconds or minutes, but longer until you realise that there is no usual commotion unfolding in front of your eyes or inside your ears. This is one of those places in Buldana to find that peaceful moment, of course except when the selfie takers want a selfie with a foreigner! LOL.
I look around to the north and the west as I stand on the edge of the deep valley that could gobble me up within its vastness. And it is all quiet. Eerily quiet (especially since the selfie takers have left). Dr Moses sits down, and I can see that he would come here often to sit and think and digest and plan and make sense. I do the same and drift off into my own world without anything or anyone else being in my space. It’s been a while since I have heard simply nothing.
The sun descends and turns the hazy sky an orange-red hue. Something about being here and watching the sun set pulls out a crazy thought within me: starting a bookshop in Buldana. I dream up all crazy concoctions – I could call it Buldana Books and my dear Indian friend and I, well we could run it together and she could be trained and skilled in all things books – ordering, stocking, customer service, budgeting. (Have you read the book The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul?) And we could employ so many of the other young women and willing friends who live at the women’s hostel – young women who don’t want to play by some of the village rules of early marriage and hard labour work in farms or cleaning other people’s houses. Instead they languish in a hostel for something to change in their world. Any small change is a big chance to land a job in the police force, or an opening in the government administration or…what else?
Some of the young women’s more constantly mentioned word here is “permission”: from their fathers, from their husbands, from the hostel. Some young girls are granted ‘permission’ by their fathers to wear t-shirts or jeans rather than more traditional dress. In marriage, some women need to seek ‘permission’ from their husband’s or their in-laws for a whole variety of trivial and less trivial matters. The word ‘permission’ has now become my new dark word, one that glues together the battle between male control and power with female obedience and honour.
There’s not many quality choices for these young women in reality at the moment. And some of these determined young women will do anything to avoid what their families all want them to do – marry. They see what happens. They know what occurs. They understand the ramifications. These young women want to escape the less attractive obligations about village life but still wish to belong to their family, to their village. Some women are happy in their marriages, but some are not. And if you’re not willing to follow the path set out before you, there’s really not many alternatives. If only they, in the villages, could hear them, and listen to what some of them are trying to convey. All I can hear now while I’m standing here looking out to the great open space of Sunset Point valley is the hauntingly sweet voices of these young adolescent girls in their own words just two years back who stated: “fight for our rights”.
My romantic book business thought is interrupted by my two older daughter’s launching their drone up into the air – one 16 and the other 15 years old. They are relatively free and have a world of choices and opportunities at their disposal compared to the girls who are fighting to be heard. The buzz of four small propellers sounds more like a swarm of bees approaching from behind and the silence and the voices quickly disappear. The white Star Wars-like drone flies into the open, free as a bird but controlled by its navigator who pushes buttons and flicks levers, just like the young women who live in the hostel who are controlled not only by a 7:00pm hostel curfew but all their life by their fathers back in their village home or their potential husbands in a foreign village one day soon. I wonder if they too come here to Sunset Point to let go of all their frustrations and pain and torment into the valley below and breathe in clarity and resilience to keep them going against the status quo here in rural India.
I will have to ask.