Last Saturday afternoon, following an arduous eight hour bus journey, I found myself in the tiny village of Jalligeri in the southern state of Karnataka, India. The word village might even be too grand a term, as in truth, Jalligeri is little more than a hamlet, nestled humbly amongst sprawling fields and mountain peaks.
The village of Jalligeri
I had travelled there with a young woman named Miram, who runs a small clothing stall outside my house in Goa. Miram was returning to visit family with her nine month old son, Gonal, and though her invitation to join them had come entirely out of the blue the previous day, her kind smile and enthusiasm for her home state were intoxicating, and I found myself accepting without hesitation.
So there I was, sweaty and dusty from the journey, stepping off the bus in Jalligeri. The women from the village rushed down to greet us, instantly lifting baby Gonal from his mother’s arms and excitedly fussing around us. They giggled as they took it in turns to push forward and touch my long blonde hair and pale skin, and beckoned for their children to come down and meet us.
Here I was introduced to Miram’s mother-in-law Poopy, a stocky matriarch in traditional dress, who welcomed me with open arms, straight into the heart of rural life.
Miram’s mother-in-law, Poopy (I know, what a name!)
Me, Poopy and her husband
Poopy led us to a small white house with mud-splattered walls and a corrugated metal roof. I left my flip-flops outside the wooden door and stepped into her two room dwelling that served as home to eleven family members, plus a small black cat and three dogs.
Curling tendrils of sweet incense smoked their way out through the open doorway. Poopy ushered me to sit down on the only piece of furniture in the room, a metal bed that Miram explained had been a gift to her and her husband Manju following their arranged marriage.
Gods and offerings
Miram beamed as she showed me around, pointing out faded family photos and framed depictions of Hindu Gods, and translating as best she could when her family joined in on the tour. I watched her come to life in the warmth of her home, changing from the western style clothes she had travelled in to a traditional housedress, leaving her shoes haphazardly tossed in the corner and letting her long dark hair fall around her shoulders.
Miram and Gonal
Her family fawned over her and baby Gonal, who was passed between outstretched arms and showered with kisses from head to toe. Their attention then turned back to me, and they happily fussed around, placing a small red Bindi on my forehead and offering the first of countless cups of chai so sweet I could barely stand to swallow it.
Poopy then spread a woven mat in the dirt courtyard outside. Here the women and I gathered together to snack on green mango wedges dipped in salt and chilli powder, while we basked in the warmth of the afternoon sun.
Deliciously sour green Mango
As we ate I could hardly take my eyes off the women’s intricate and colourful traditional dress, hand-stitched with small reflective discs, some of which had been recycled from car mirrors, still warning “Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear”.
When the electricity came on for just a few hours that night, the television was instantly switched on and the house filled with family and friends, crowding around the small screen to watch a surprising mix of Bollywood soap operas and WWF wrestling.
Dinner is served
A simple but delicious dinner was served on the mud floor of the house, and the women and I shared egg curry with chapatti and white radish freshly harvested from the surrounding fields, while the men ate separately outside.
Once the plates were cleared away Poopy lifted her top and pulled out a small mirrored bag containing her supply of betel nut. She offered me a few pieces, then took out a smooth green leaf and spread it with a white paste before demonstrating how to fold them together and chew it.
She laughed as my face contorted with the bitter taste, and after lasting just a few short minutes I had to give in, and Poopy hurried me outside where I gladly spat it out, adding to the red splattered stains that covered the ground.
When the power was switched off at 10pm an oil lamp was lit, and I was motioned to join the other women as they walked behind the house to use the ‘toilet’. Here I was instantly forced to relinquish my English sensibilities, and we squatted together in the mud to relieve ourselves amongst stinking piles of piss and shit.
Let there be light
It was a relief to finally go to sleep after my long day of travel, and I gladly climbed into bed beside Miram and baby Gonal, whilst the other women spread themselves out on the floor around us, and the men of the family lay on woven sacks beneath the stars.
As I struggled to doze off amongst Gonal’s wriggling and the cacophony of snores reverberating from the floor, I drew in a long breath of mountain air laced with the smell of sandalwood and freshly tilled soil, willing myself to fall asleep.
I wondered what the day would have in store for me tomorrow…
For more photos from my weekend at Poopy’s house, please visit my Facebook page.