Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Kanti (in red) is the cook for the guest house that is part of the model school and NIRMAN Centre for Postcolonial Education.
We went to visit her house a short walk from ours one evening about 9 pm.
Kanti is the wage earner of her family. Neither her husband nor her two sons has a steady job. She comes from one of the lower castes within the former scheduled caste system.
The word "untouchables" is not used now; that particular scheduled caste is now called "dalit" (perhaps because of the high consumption of lentils, dal).
Outside her one-room house were a Brahman bull and a shiny blue motorcycle. To go in, we climbed up a small slope of mud (it had rained).
Inside was a 4 foot x 6 foot wooden box that served as a couch for all eight of us to sit on during our visit; at night it serves as a bed. The house is bare. Kanti cooks on the floor in one corner.
The room reminded me of the one-room houses that church groups build for families living in shacks in Tijuana, Mexico.
It had electricity but no indoor water or plumbing. For a restroom, the family uses a neighborhood facility built by a nonprofit a few years ago. They pay one rupee per visit.
They bathe outside the room inside a curtain using a bucket of water to rinse, soap up, and rinse off. Buckets of water are carried from a community hand pump.
Kanti graciously spoke with her eight visitors, joined by one of her sons and his wife of six months, who hid her face behind the scarf of the colorful sari she was wearing.
Nita later explained that a new wife would be especially modest for the first year or two, never letting her brother-in-law see her face.
Kanti's neighbor was curious to meet us and stood by with her young son, later sitting on the floor (see photo).
After I got back to the guest house, my room--the one I had first viewed as rather bare bones compared to a Motel 6--now seems like a spacious palace.
All this space just for me, not a family of six. And an indoor bathroom nearby, and a kitchen ruled by Kanti where she prepares the breakfast that appears on the table at 8 am.
"These women love music and dance, especially singing in festivals during the monsoon season," said Nita. "They have fun in their lives, but they are underfed."