Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Shiva's Cave to Hope

After a late night wedding viewing, the directing duo - the director and his wife - returned to motivate, inspire, and employ various techniques to bump productivity out here, accompanied by an old, long-winded, engineer. I ate the freshest chicken of my life with a few shop workers, celebrated Thanksgiving with the meager supplies available (flour, eggs, water), then recently trekked out to Patal Bhuwneshwar, a famous Hindu cave that supposedly connects underground to Tibet.
Direj (who's name means 'patience' I recently discovered) works in the dying department, using tumeric, indigo, rust, and other natural pigments to color the fabric produced here. He invited myself and Jessica, our British volunteer, out to his young sister's wedding last week, and we were reluctantly accompanied by other Avani workers, hesitant because they claimed it was too cold to go to a wedding... After waiting in the nearby temple for half an hour, the wedding band arrived, having driven in decorated cars and vans from the groom's village 100 km away, carrying around 100 of his guests, and a team of male dancers dressed as women. We drank tea at the temple, watched the dancers and then headed off to Direj's village for the ceremony. After a lot of standing around at the road, we stumbled in the dark to his house, which was prepared to host the 200 or so guests. Waiting and waiting ensued, during which the numerous stories of my misadventures were told and I was requested to call someone a "mutt" in Hindi - my most recent entertaining skill. Since the congregation was all male ("the wedding will be 10% women" they said), Jessica and I went up to the attic to meet the bride, who looked terrified but smiled when we told her she looked beautiful, decked out in brilliantly colored clothes and an ornate nose ring (traditional name?). After the groom was carried in on a hoisted chair, we all went to eat, and stuffed ourselves with amazing spiced vegetable dishes and the most incredible chutney I have ever had. We left around 11 pm, waddling back downhill along the road, nursing engorged bellies. Turns out Direj ended up with leftovers and I recently managed to get a jar of chutney from his mother.
The directing duo returned to get things moving, and I finally realized how much of my own initiative will be required to get things done, hearing that with coaxing/vigilance, the machine shop productivity can jump to five times the normal pace. The solar hot water heaters made here must be certified so that they can sell to the government, and I had numerous conversations with a 60-year-old mechanical engineer Delhi-ite about what was required, every time entering some philosophical discussion of anything I wasn't interested in, at one point causing me to scowl for 10 minutes straight at the old fellow, who would not stop talking and interrupting. Later he asked me about the hostility, I tried to explain his rudeness, only to be interrupted again with "Now we're trying to retaliate. You really need respect and patience..." blah blah. Cultural differences come out in many situations, but I managed to glean a bit of useful advice from him, and following the travesty of Mumbai, we (he) had a long discussion about the history of terrorism in India.
After they left, I enjoyed a 'non-veg' meal with a few guys from the shop, personally purchasing the meat from the town up the hill. I ordered one kilo of chicken from a man in a shack with no shoes - he pulled a chicken out of its cage, killed it on the spot and I watched him strip and prepare the meat on a huge tree stump, as he squatted on the floor. I was amazed, walking away with a bag of warm meat, later to eat the freshest non-veg dish of my life, doused in local spices, a mere two hours later.
Following a Thanksgiving breakfast feast, with yours truly cooking up pancakes to be covered in local honey, we had a modest, but delicious curry for dinner, and I even managed to wrangle a Brit into celebrating someone else's holiday - we said thanks for the local chocolate cream filled cookies and chai.
For a break following the burden of the directors, with their oversight and wailing child, we went to a famous cave nearby, which supposedly housed Shiva, the Hindu god, during his adventures. There are numerous stories about dogs entering the cave and coming out in faraway places, and I was instructed to bring my passport, since the cave also had a path to America. We walked 8 km from the roadhead, since no jeep passed by to give us a ride, surrounded by "jungal" (Hindi for forest) and magnificent views of the Himalayan peaks. Jitu, a young solar technician (fixes solar panels) told us numerous stories about fighting monkeys and seeing tigers as we walked. Sure, Jitu. When we arrived, Jessica and I forewent a cave tour for a potato pancake breakfast, stomachs growling, and when we finally went down to look, we discovered an absurd 10X markup for foreigners. Unhappy with our treatment and the prospect of paying a fee that we doubted went towards anything at the temple, we waited for our guides to return from their tour, meanwhile spotting some gorgeous bright green parakeets, then headed back up the road. We did get a jeep this time, cramming 15 people into an nine-seater, stopped at the road junction for some tea, and returned in time for lunch. After some rice I resumed reading "The Celestine Prophecy" which preaches of the interconnectedness of the world's energy and wondered if positive energy from here could put some hope into citizens of Mumbai.

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