After Rajasthan, I headed north to Himachal Pradesh to research farming methods for a potential new business importing organic spices to the United States. I stayed in a small village outside of a town called Una, with Raj, a driver for One Love Tours, and his family. Raj’s family farms several pieces of land near Una and they grow Himachal Pradesh’s staple crops: wheat, mustard, and barseem (clover for cattle or water buffalo).
I spent four days with Raj’s family and I started to get a feel for the rhythms of village life. Every morning begins with milking the buffalo, lighting the fire for the cooking stove, and getting breakfast started. Breakfast is standard North Indian fare: whole wheat chapati (flat bread), dal ( a watery but well seasoned stew of lentils), and fresh yogurt.
Like many families in this part of India, Raj’s family keeps a water buffalo. Water buffalo produce more milk with more milk fat than cows, which makes them the preferred dairy animal in villages. Unlike cattle, it is also legal to slaughter water buffalo in India. This is why you see hundreds of cattle roaming the streets, but rarely a buffalo. When you buy milk at the store, it is a mix of water buffalo and cow’s milk unless clearly specified. This was my first exposure to 100% water buffalo yogurt. This yogurt had a grainy texture and (for me) an unappetizing aftertaste of a smoked Gouda cheese. The taste might have been flavor from the milk, or the bacteria in the yogurt culture might have been the cause, but when it comes to yogurt, I’m a cow girl all the way!
Raj has two sisters and because it is the responsibility of the oldest son to take care of his parents, Raj’s mother and father live with his family. I slept in the family’s living room/master bedroom which I shared with Grandmother and the Raj’s sons Gorab, age 10, and Sorav, age 9. I don’t think that privacy exists in a village home, but because of that, people are respectful of one another. It didn’t take long for me to feel like family. At first Raj’s wife was very shy around me, but after I told her she was my favorite cook in all of India (which is true) and let her fix my hair, she warmed up to me and by the end of my visit she offered to come to America to be my wife. I enjoyed spending time with Raj’s children. We played games and they helped me learn Hindi and I helped them with their English.
Raj took me to meet both of his sisters and his aunt and their respective families. They each lived in a neighboring village and I was the first foreigner that many people had met. This made me an instant celebrity. In one village, I had a pack of twenty kids following me around. My celebrity was made even more overwhelming by the fact that they don’t speak much English in the villages and I couldn’t really communicate with my new fans. My camera bridged the communication gap most of the time. People love seeing pictures of themselves and many people wanted their picture taken with me. I felt like my own paparazzi.
Raj’s niece, Razni, my new friend and guide helped translate and take photos. She was a great help and a very sweet person. Razni is a modern village woman. She lives at home with her mother, attends college to learn computer programing, works as a beautician, and a secretary, and takes care of her mother and their water buffalo, and she is only 22 years old. She introduced me to all her friends in the village. The experience was really amazing, but also exhausting and whenever I looked tired, which was often, Razni would ask me in her limited English, “Are you boring?” when she meant, “Are you bored?”
Most village women spend time attending to the needs of daily life, growing food, cooking food, washing clothes and taking care of water buffalo. Razni took me with her to cut barseem for the water buffalo, which most women spend part of their day doing. Her brother, who is a tailor, made me a “punjabi suit,” and I got a lot of attention out in the field. I enjoyed being in the fields with the people of the village, mostly women, who visit with one another while they work. It is true that people’s lives are filled with hardship, they are also peaceful and happy. I felt fortunate to experience this part of village life and understand the simple joys that people cultivate in their lives every day.
All over India, people carry anything that weighs over fifteen pounds on top of their heads. They often walk a couple of kilometers from the field to their home with these heavy loads. I can’t get enough pictures of people carrying things on top of their head, but I don’t always get the opportunity to get a good photo. These photos start to convey the amazing feats women perform here every day, and their clothes always look clean! I am absolutely in awe of Indian women.