Friday 17 September 2010

Today, more generosity of spirit and purse!

I am sitting writing this with some treats - a packet of American Style Cream & Onion crisps and a cup of Jasmine tea. The reason for the treats? It has been a long day, packed with typical Indian bureaucracy and typical Indian hospitality which has left me with a smile on my face and no need for dinner.
The day started with a beautifully cool morning, slight drizzle, and very hazy. Clearly it was going to rain today, so I left my camera at home - as it turns out a bad move :(  The first order of business was to present myself at the Superintendent of Police's Office at 10:00AM. My colleague Mr Padhi came with me, we arrived 5 minutes or so early. The security scanning people recognized me - inevitably - this is the second time I  have had to go through this foreigner's registration process. We sat in the foyer, chatted and waited. At about 10:30AM the inspector and constable who are dealing with my paperwork arrived. I have never seen the inspector do anything resembling work in all my visits to his office and that wasn't to change today. He went off somewhere and that was the last I saw of him.  We went with the constable to the Superintendent's Office. Empty. The constable checked with various people, came back and sat there with us, more waiting. This going, checking, and coming back lasted for over 2 hours. I'm getting to know this constable quite well - we bought groundnuts yesterday from the same place - Kal, tame badam kinuchi. tamaku badam bhala lage - ki? ha, bahut bhala lage - yesterday you are buying groundnuts, I say, you like them? yes, very much, he says.   Praise for my developing Oriya. I am given a pronunciation lesson from Mr Padhi,  tamaku v tamaakuh meaning "to you"  v "a cigarette"! Gradually though I am making conversation in Oriya.
At about 12:30 after another foray, the constable finally has found the Assistant Superintendent, who comes and reviews my paper work. Yes everything is almost good, I need to add one new sentence to the Sponsorship letter from my NGO, then we can go and pay the required fee, return with the payment receipt and he will stamp my Registration Certificate.  A long wait, but actually a positive result!  The Treasury office is now closed so payment will have to be made on another day. Getting this far has taken since I returned on 23rd August and I can see it taking another week. This has been a productive day, but you can see why things take so long to achieve what should be a 10 minute job.
On the way back to the office we stop at Mr Padhi's house. He, his wife Rasi and son Pratham have been to my house and I to theirs before. But when I was away they moved to be nearer to the boy's school. I also think that the first place they found when they moved into Rayagada town from villages was too expensive for them. Their house is in an area of Rayagada that I have driven through before and like - it is thriving nagar, full of little corner shops and businesses, tailors etc, is near the college, the streets are always buzzing with activity, with school children immaculately turned out in their uniforms - regulation brown and cream coloured shalwar kameez for the girls and trousers and shirt for the boys, blue for the younger school age group. It is not a well off area, but it is a long way from being a slum area.  I would have quite liked to have lived there except the journey to and from work would be horrid, mainly along a very bumpy, dusty, dangerously busy road with lots of truck traffic and at about 50 rupees each way, expensive.
Their house is one of 8 lining a rectangular courtyard, with one end exiting through a communal gate onto the road. On each long side of the rectangular yard are doorways, each leading to a house.  Their front door has to be seen. It reminds me of a ill fitting, barn door: two wooden planks, gnawed/decayed away at the base, held together by a piece of wire and a padlock. I think a strong pair of scissors would get through the wire! I didn't really know what to expect . This door opens onto a small vestibule, which in turn opens onto one room then another. Food is prepared in the second room and the rest of live takes place in the first. At the back there is what I take to be a outside area where I could  see their water container through the open doorway. The rooms are I guess about 10-12 feet square, not big. All their possessions are here, clothes and bags hang high up along a rope. A large tin box and two bigger luggage bags are piled at one side. The room shelves are stacked with dishes and jars of food staples, spices etc.
When we arrive Madury, the wife of another, now ex-colleague, Santosh, is there with their boy, Om. Rasi and her are always together. neither of the women are educated, in fact neither are literate, which surprised me when I first met them as both the men are graduates. All of them have been very welcoming to me, always, and this was no exception. Totally we arrived unannounced, but lunch is produced - rice, dal, popadoms, coconut chutney and green papaya curry. I remember Rasi's cooking from the first time I tasted it, she is an excellent cook. Her green papaya curry is delicate, aromatic and full of flavour. I can't praise her cooking enough. If I could communicate more with her I would get her to teach me how to make it! For now she can just about understand me when I ask her something - my accent is hard for folks who don't speak English and who don't hear it a lot. What Oriya with a Scottish accent sounds like I have no idea! I like her. They seem a happy couple, even though I know theirs is not a love marriage, it was arranged by their parents. I suspect it has its good points and its difficulties in practice given their different backgrounds. But I took an instant liking to her, and she has always made me feel really welcome in her company and her home.
So that was the first part of my day. The second half involved Mr P and I traveling to the other side of town to an unmarked CIB office to meet with the CIB Official assigned to investigate my application for extension to my visa. Of course, that visa has now been superceded by my new one. But still we had to attended when summoned. He had telephone several times when I was in the UK to get Mr P to present me for investigation. Not as ominous as it sounds, just to turn up in person, have my papers check, answer lots of questions about what I am doing and why, about what my NGO does etc. Everything seems to go well and I am asked to bring back a copy of my bio-data, as they call your CV here. This has taken another two hours! We begin to head back to the office.
We are only 5 minutes along the road when the rain starts, so heavy that we have to stop. We claim shelter under the canopy of a roadside stall, and partake of a mango juice. Next thing I know we have attracted a small crowd of young men, ranging in ages I discover for 12 to 36! It turns out the 36 year old is a teacher at the local government school, but many of the younger ones are still at school, but they all know Mr P. It turns out the boys used to attend our school and are now pleased to be informing us they are reading in 8th, 9th classes. Our school takes 50 children who have been working as child labour and puts them through 5 years of schooling in 3 years and then gets them into local government mainstream education. Those that have English want to try it out, those that don't still ask questions. My photo is taken. A hand is offered up to be shaken - that doesn't happen very much at all in India. We shelter for about 30 minutes then decide to venture forth. No sooner have we dried the bike seat and started it up than the rain worsens, we rush back into the shelter, and continue our conversations.
This is in the middle of the slum area of Rayagada. People here live illegally on the land, in constant fear of being moved on. The women work as maids in houses and hotels, their men as labourers, rickshaw wallas and the like. Everyone has migrated here from the countryside. Living conditions are not good. Just standing there watching the women across the road shows you something of their lives. The women are at a stand pump pumping water - that is better than some places - but the pump has been badly built and there is no surrounding drainage so spilt water runs off to the road, making the area around the pump very muddy, compound that with monsoon rains and everything is very messy. Barefoot women carry huge pots of water on their heads back their homes. I wonder how many times a day they do this.  Sanitation is non existent, stagnant water accumulates everywhere, even without the rains.  The houses occupy a strip of land between the road and the railway line. Some of the buildings are brick, others are not. I make lots of mental notes about things as I am currently writing a Water and Sanitation project proposal.
Meanwhile still sheltering from the downpour, I am humbled by one of the young men offering to buy Mr P and I a drink. He won't take our polite no for an answer and we are presented with small cartoons of Mango juice.  Such generosity!
Finally, we head off for another attempt to get back home to lots of cries of Bye, Asucha, come again. We end up making another stop , before finally arriving back at the office, soaked through. I wait for a little, dry my face, and head back out during a break in the clouds to get home. No hot shower, but certainly a thorough one, after wading through the mud of my nagar. Mud - I ponder  can be clean mud or dirty mud.  My clothes go into the wash as do I, thankful that my feet are covered in clean mud unlike may I have seen this afternoon.

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