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Getting to Know People in Jobner

Previously, I traveled a long way to reach Jobner (a.k.a Jobnair), in rural Rajasthan

I needed a bath more than food. I had not had a shower for five days now and I had collected a lot of dust and sweat during the long journey. But there was not enough water even to wash my feet. And then they called me to dinner. There were two large bronze plates on the table. Just as we were sitting for dinner, BP said, as if suddenly remembering something, "Hey, we didn't introduce our guest to Gyanlata. Can you send her in, Laxmi?" A Rajasthani lady walked in adjusting her ghungat (hood), her hands still dripping with wheat dough. She greeted us with a shy smile. I thought it was ironical that an illiterate woman's name was Gyanlata, meaning "tree of knowledge." She was wearing a big bronze headgear similar to the headlight that hunters wear. She had braided her hair with red twine. Silver pendulums hung from her ears, an artistic nose ring adorned her nose, and colorful hollow metal ornaments dangled from her neck. She had on bangles of all kinds, rings made with silver and brass (possibly one of those tungsten rings), and a silver belt around her waist. Her skirt had hundreds of pleats and her blouse had zari-work, with buttons on the back. She was very photogenic.

They gave me a thali (plate) and the Mathurs shared the other one. Phulka (wheat bread cooked over charcoal,) potato sabji, and daal were served. When I left Mumbai, I was concerned about northern food, and had brought with me a quantity of Bedekar's pickles for augmenting the taste. I unpacked this and shared it with my hosts. They liked it. "I know that Madrasis (for northerners all south Indians are Madrasis!) like eating rice and curds, but I could not make any," the hostess explained. Later, when I drank water from the tumbler on the table by first pouring it on to my cupped hands, they exclaimed that I had become one of them. After the meals, BP pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his hands and face. I was uncomfortable wiping mine and instead tried to wash my hands with the water that remained in the tumbler. Laxmi noticed it, stopped me, and made arrangements for alternate water. She explained that drinking water was very precious in Rajasthan. Later when I saw them buy two cans of water from a water boy for 20 paise, I was convinced. I was told by Laxmi that the water was more precious than milk. It was very funny to listen to her English spoken in a Hindi accent.

BP lit a cigarette after the meal and I was served with supari . When I refused the offer, Laxmi criticized her husband by calling him an inculcator of vices. BP asked me for details of my travel. They didn't believe that I had traveled for four days without any bedding or blanket. I requested them to find me a room or a house to stay in. "It is not easy to find a house in this place. I will certainly try. Please make yourself comfortable in our home till then. Dr. Sharma who is now in the U.S. had done the same. It's no big deal." Meanwhile the son shouted, "Rani is here. Rani is here." I was under the impression that Sardar Vallabhai Patel had abolished rajas and ranis from India, and wondered who this Rani was! It turned out to be the dishwashing lady, her face fully covered by her ghungat. BP asked her, "Rani, did you convey my message to your husband?" "Yes, he got angry and asked me whether I wanted a strong masculine bull or a weakling to pull the cart," she replied as she scampered away. BP explained to me, "She already has thirteen children and is pregnant with her fourteenth. I sent word to her husband to have a birth control operation, and that was his response. The couple believes that God doesn't starve the children he provides. They say that every child is bajara-roti: the children work from early childhood and earn ten to twelve annas per day. So the more children they have, the higher is the family income.

The janitor cleaned the house and left. And then the college peon Kanialal came and Laxmi gave him the grocery list. When he returned with potatoes, eggplants, onions, and guavas, she calculated and recalculated the cost and the change returned. Then the chief gardener from the department arrived with some flowers and plants that he had picked from the greenhouse in the college. He had even brought fertilizer with him. After he planted them, he went to the flour mill to get the wheat powdered. BP advised me to take rest and he too retired.

When I woke up from my nap, Haribaksh was making tea. We were joined by Dr. Rawat, a faculty member, for more political talk and tea. I understood that Rawat was now a junior faculty member and was trying to become a professor and that he was facing competition from more qualified candidates in the rival group. They felt that since Rawat was a Rajput, he would be able to pull some influence on a member of parliament belonging to the same caste. I was told that Rawat was a very forward thinking man, whose son went to a military school in Deharadun, and whose daughter was a genius and could even fly an airplane. I was also told Rawat had a beautiful wife and a beautiful house.

It was customary for members of the faculty to meet with the dean Sahib at his bungalow on the first day. BP was going to accompany me to the dean's house. Laxmi advised me to impress the dean's wife, who was reportedly either a motherly figure or a venomous person, depending on whether one was in her good books or not. When we arrived at the dean's house, he was taking a walk in his garden. We waited on the chairs outside and he soon joined us. Soon after, his wife too joined the conversation. She was wearing a silk sari and had extremely fair skin, probably due to a disease. I was especially courteous to her and she seemed to acknowledge it. The couple showed their warmth by providing delicious snacks and pleasantries. "You must be very uncomfortable coming from New York to this cursed village. There is no cinema or theater here... If you need any help, please let us know."

On the way back, we encountered the Srivastava couple, who also belonged to the department. Later Laxmi provided an elaborate description of the Srivastava family, "Kailash thinks he's an actor. Although balding rapidly, he is always meticulously groomed; he carries six handkerchiefs: the one in the coat pocket is for decoration, the one in the left pocket is for the head, the one on the right pocket is for sweat, the hip pocket contains one for the shoes. One can use his shoes as mirrors and yet when they get even a bit dusty, he stops on the road side, polishes them, and continues on. His wife is a highschool teacher and is extremely fashionable. She is a role model for the school girls. The first thing she does at school is to write a note to her husband and sends it through a student. He replies and sends his note through the peon. Even though both are earning incomes, their combined income is not enough to make ends meet in their fancy lifestyle, and they have loans from pawn shops in Jaipur. They sent their son to the school in Dehraradun, but he failed and had to leave. This couple only visit those families who are in their social class..."

There was rice for dinner. Then my hosts made coffee to keep the body warm at night. I refused the coffee, as the caffeine might have deterred my sleep. They provided me with a char-pai and a thick mattress, blanket and comforter. I wrote a letter home and thought in my bed of the difficulties I would have had but for the hospitality of the Mathur couple. The next day I woke up to the milkman's whistle, but the family waited for Haribaksh to make tea before they arose.

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  • Excerpts translated from the Kannada original "Na Rajastanadalli," by Krishnanand Kamat, Akshara Publishers, 1974.
  • You can find brief descriptions of  some of the words  in the Glossary
  • The experiences occurred in the year 1965.

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