Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Farmed Out

Yesterday was India's Republic Day, which meant no school for me and Jess. So we slept in till 9, had a leisurely breakfast of curds (fresh, unskimmed plain yogurt), apples, and black tea. Then Neeta and Push pushed us into their big white tank of a car (mysteriously it's still in production) and we headed for their farmhouse.

We drove north of Jodhpur into an area that's noticeably greener. "The water is soft here, not hard like in Jodhpur," Push explained. Hard?

"Hard, not sweet, salty," he elaborated. So the water under the ground in Jodhpur is brackish, I gather, and they pipe in fresh water for the city from this area. As we barreled along on uneven one lane roads--veering widely off the road when fat buses and our favorite flamboyant Goods Carriers appeared (India's surreal reincarnations of commercial trucks)--I regretted accepting Neeta's offer to sit in the front seat. It's obvious she avoids this position whenever possible. A ride with Push is like living a video game, full of heart-stopping twists where you're sure you've used up your last life. After a while I cover my face with a shawl so I can't look forward, trying to zone out inspecting the roadside wildlife to my left (the usual boney goats, crippled donkeys, raggedly dogs).

We drove an hour to the 1500-strong village of Menai, in which Push is the Big Poppa Rajput landlord. His house is built from the same beige stone that's minded nearby, but it's a step up from the ramshackle squat stone huts where the farmers live. He lets them live on the property, providing water and electricity (er, for the four hours at night the government turns it on, to power the irrigation pumps). They farm the land, with reciprocated help from the neighbors: they turn out red chilies, wheat, millet, flaxseed, and mustard seed, currently in bright yellow flower. They recently added red carrots to this battery, which they're pulling up now, to be sold at a good profit to folks in Bombay. Of this profit, the farmers get 25%.

Unable to resist good light and gorgeous subjects, Jess and I padded around in the fields harassing the harvesters with cameras for a bit. So here is where those fat scarlet carrots at the market originate. The ladies (most of the laborers were girls and super-strong women) all seemed to like the attention, but it's ultra weird to stick a lens in peoples' faces after a brief "namaste" and "tamarra nam que" ("what is your name?") which is the extent of my Hindi at this point.

We had lunch by Bhera Ran's farm hut: millet and wheat chapatti, chilies and cabbage, and a stringy bean, also stir-fried with chilies. Their skinny, dust-covered children (everything and everyone out here is caked in dust) kept bringing us more chapatti but I wasn't hungry.

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