Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Memories of a Rural Ancestral Village.

 There is a reverent name by which my grandmother’s village is called, by the few who know it. It is an hour’s drive from the teeming city of Gujrat (3 hrs from Lahore) towards Azad Kashmir.
I wish it were still as beautiful for you to visit, but the truth is that I shall tell it to you from memory – until only a decade or two ago, this place was mystical and charming, still might be, but my grandmother is no longer, there is electricity, and the people have grown up different..

Enter off a lone road, down a narrow uncomfortable dirt track you navigate by gently nudging a very stubborn flock of goats and sheep with the car, who take no notice of the horn and your presence (Do not try it with the buffaloes).
From afar, the batch of mud and redbrick houses is alluring, enter and suddenly you are in a very narrow brick lane, and you take the lanes that can squeeze in your car, open drains on either side running along and medieval towns are no longer a strange picture in history, but very real. Hardship is etched into the lines and threadbare dhotis of the old women and men bent double, but then hardship is etched into the faces of many people across Pakistan, and you will be surprised at the meaning of faces conveying stories, stories you know you don’t want to hear because of how they will make you feel.

At the very end of the village, the last house is huge and covers the perimeter of all the houses behind it, so that when you turn the last lane round the corner, you have only the house, or ‘haveli’ stretching out on one side, and opposite is the mosque, the ‘mazaar’ , and the well driven by oxen, buffaloes tied, and behind all these, the fields open and go on forever. In the background, you can barely make out the purple outline of the mountains of Kashmir.

We break into a run knowing our grandmother is inside, Nano,(are all maternal grandmothers as special and angelic as mine?? ) She is inside, losing her sight,partially blind, fiercely independent, and she is surprised, then breaks into her very musical laugh as she hears the children run up to her and hug her.

There was no telephone in the house see, and she is in the midst of supervising the chattering village women squatting on the ground, who come frequently to pay homage, and gather in the courtyard to talk and help her with various activities.Suddenly a proud rooster is scooped up from the ground, and a few minutes later, two of the women are plucking out the dead bird’s feathers, preparing him for a very strong flavored simple chicken broth, simple and light, but loaded with chillies, and the flavor of a free bird that fed on organic scraps and clean air. The rotis to go with it, will come out of the ‘tandoor’ oven in the ground, in the courtyard. The cat meanwhile eyes them, slinking nearby. At night she will disturb the tin dishes while we sleep nearby on charpais, underneath a black sky FILLED with stars, something I still have not witnessed anywhere else – I didn’t know it was possible to see so many stars, or that there were so many. Until drops of rain falling on our face wake us and force us to move into the verandas, where at 8 AM we will find the village women sitting on our charpais chattering amazed at how we are still sleeping after the sun has risen.

Sharing pictures of my grandmother’s house today... She had the most musical laugh I have ever heard, and the most generous spirit I personally knew – the way to make her happy was to bring her gifts she could give away to poor villagers. Combine that with pragmatism, and forgetting your belongings at her place meant you had just given to charity unwittingly.

Above: The courtyard of my grandmother's house, where the village women would gather around to gossip, and do chores. The pillar has a rod from which hung a wire basket to keep food well aired, and away from cats!
In the bottom right corner(Not fully pictured) is the Tandoor (clay oven) in the ground for making Rotis.. the bread sticks to the hot walls and is done by the flames in a minute or two.

Above: The view from the verandah going around the courtyard.

Above: One of the main entrances... An intricate carved wooden door leads into a small mud floored room that opens into the courtyard.