I woke up on my second day in Jalligeri stiff from the rock hard mattress, my clothes damp from baby Gonal’s pee. This wouldn’t be the first time that day either, as his little bottom went permanently un-diapered and was often in my arms or on my lap as I blended further into family life.
A large bucket of water had already been heated on the fire for me, and Poopy invited me to “take a bath”. The bath was in fact nothing more than a raised stone platform in the corner of the kitchen, where I was encouraged to strip off and begin to wash whilst Poopy and the women of the house sat before me cooking chapattis and boiling fresh chai.
I stood there naked beneath the spiders and corrugated metal roof, trying to wash away my Western insecurities that proved as stubborn as the grime beneath my fingernails.
Following my bath Poopy and Miram were eager for us to head out and see their fields and livestock. We hitched a ride on the village tractor, driving past neatly planted crops and fields of cotton, before coming to a halt on the perimeter of Poopy’s land: a sun-scorched swathe of ochre stretching out towards the horizon.
I jumped down from the tractor, only to have a day old baby goat instantly heaped into my arms. Poopy’s young son then spent a good fifteen minutes rushing into the vast herd to select another one for me to hold, staggering back towards me clinging tightly to the kid as it bleated and kicked for freedom.
A woman sat in the corner of the field cooking rice, and we arranged ourselves amongst the goat droppings beside her. Poopy emerged with a small bucket of fresh goat’s milk and added this to the rice with a generous handful of salt. A large sticky dollop of the mixture was then lumped onto a plate and handed to me for breakfast.
Once breakfast was over Miram announced we would walk back to the village to catch a bus to the neighbouring town. They were taking Gonal to have his ear pierced; an act she believed would drive out “the bad in him”. I wasn’t sure how much bad a beautiful little nine-month-old baby could contain, but I nodded and smiled, happy to be included.
After a long wait for the only bus in the area, we found ourselves in the small town of Shirhatti. I followed Poopy and Miram as they carried a smiling Gonal down a small street, straight into the path of a festival procession led by an enormous elephant. They squeezed through unfazed while I rummaged for my camera, then ducked into a quaint little house decorated with strings of laundry drying in the sun.
Oh, just another elephant procession
Ear piercing available, enquire within
Miram and Poopy chatted with the man who was to carry out the ear piercing, before following him back out into the street, motioning for me to follow. I assumed he would be taking us to some formal place to perform the piercing, and was surprised when he stopped abruptly on the side of the street. I watched as he squatted down amongst piles of trash, lit two incense sticks, and then wedged them in the dirt as he wafted the musky wisps up to his face.
What followed was rudimentary at best. The man took a small square of paper, which he unfolded to reveal a coil of copper wire. His dirty fingertips worked quickly to straighten out the wire, and he tugged on Miram’s dress for her to crouch down.
Miram struggled to hold a now terrified baby Gonal, and Poopy and I were forced to help, each one of us holding a tiny little arm as he grew more and more stressed. The unsterilised, entirely blunt piece of wire was then forced through the top of Gonal’s right ear, and he let out a scream as silent tears streamed down his mother’s face.
The ends of the wire were roughly entwined. Gonal was then stripped of all his clothing and bangles, which Miram tossed on the ground amongst the trash. I then noticed that it wasn’t trash after all; it was piles of previously discarded clothing and jewellery, abandoned after what must have been dozens of similar rituals.
Gonal’s little ear
Gonal finally manages to sleep
We turned and followed Poopy back down the street, where she led us all into a goldsmith’s studio. This hardly felt like the time to be shopping for new accessories. Instead, little Gonal was laid across the glass display counter and a young boy stood over him with a pair of tiny pliers, deftly twisting together the ends of the copper wire in his ear to make a smooth loop.
And then it was done. Poopy charged ahead and we fell in line behind her, back towards the bus stand. I kept my eyes on the ground as I tried my best to dodge the giant globs of spit and betel nut that dappled the ground, hoping they wouldn’t see my tears.
That night I lay sleepless in bed again, trying to process my thoughts on a belief system I struggle to understand. Gonal rolled over onto his ear and let out yet another agonizing cry. I knew it had been a weekend that would leave its mark on both of us forever.
- Read the first part of my time in Jalligeri here.
- For more photos from my weekend at Poopy’s house, please visit my Facebook page.