Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Upstairs/ Downstairs

In the last week I've been exposed to the complete range of living situations in and around Phaltan. Last Thursday, I tagged along with Aai and five of her former students to see another former student who has just had a new baby. The young woman lives in a rural village just outside of Phaltan. Theirs is a joint home, so the entire extended family lives together in a series of huts. Aai wanted to show me a traditional cooking area, so she took me next door and asked the elderly grandmother to pose in the cooking area.
This woman was adorable. Her daughter kept trying to get her to do "action shots," but she'd just poke the fire a few times and then turn back to smile/grimace at the camera like she clearly knew you were supposed to do in pictures. Then she was so excited to see the finished shots that she made us sit down for more tea.

Here's the whole group including the girls who went to visit, the new mother, and several neighborhood children.

This is a young woman named Komal with the "big sister."
The next day switched to the other side of the tracks. I lunched with a former colleague of Aai's named Shobah, whom I met at their monthly dinner gathering for the female faculty. She and her family spent years in America, her English is superb, and she clearly enjoys adopting people into her social circle. It seems very common for all but the poorest Indian families to hire a maid or a cook, but her family's home keeps more servants than inhabitants.

While we ate our western meal, I had a long conversation with Shobah's sweet little mother, and reflected on how my middle-class host home sat so securely between the very high and the very low extremes. In our kitchen, a grinding stone sits by the gas stove. We watch dvds while drinking water from earthenware pots, and watch young men avoid hitting cows with their motorbikes. The ancient and modern intermingle without any sense of conflict. It's both a chosen and forced mix, and it isn't just in our home. The veggie seller I pass on my way to school has a cell phone and she's more likely to have a TV at home than running water. Coming from a country where the past is placed on a separate, venerated pedestal, it's fun running into 1000 year-old temples in the middle of two-lane intersections.

1 comment:

Max said...

Wow- sounds like you're definitely keeping yourself busy, but I'm sure that you're doing a fantastic job with everything. Hell, given your predilection for doing everything at once, I bet you're having a ball.

Also- are you actually the tallest one in that picture? If so, scaaary...