Smoke in the Kitchen – Majkhali, India

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Siru, the families puppy.

I woke up early, cracking open blue window shutters to a fading night. Siru, the fluffy husky like puppy, caught me trying to sneak out to the bathroom. Nipping at me a little too hard, I tried to make it to the toilet before he tore my pants apart. Stumbling away as he chased me. The Grandmother rescued me and I peed in peace. I cracked the door and made a run back to my room.

I climbed the stairs to the concrete roof, as the sun began its morning dance on the Himalaya’s. I had never seen mountains that tower like those. So ragged and jagged, it looked as if the gods chopped them angrily out of the earth. So tall, it seemed I could reach out over into the sky and touch them. They stood fully outlined, completely circling us, like women in burkas holding hands in front of the sun. The valleys and mountains reached south, clear as the ocean in their blue depths. Just for a moment, I could see exactly where the horizon dropped off like the earth was still flat, then clouds and mist filled the valleys.

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Sunrise over the Himalaya’s

India is never quiet. It starts before night leaves, with a cacophony of birds. The dogs answer with loud good mornings, than breakfast pots banging and wood chopping, finally women yelling in Hindi across each other’s courtyards. A warm breeze teased my hair as I walked down from the roof to the kitchen for breakfast.

Sitting in the smoked out kitchen, eyes tearing as I pounded breakfast down my gob before they could start gushing, the delicacy of this life hits me. A duplicity of simple yet completely nuanced in every facet.

This way of life is so beautiful. So much more meaningful in the intricacies that string directly between the land and the people. Every family owns a house built completely by their own hands or by their fathers and mothers before them. A hand laid courtyard sits in front of every home with one awkward stone shaped like a bowl in the corner. Now abandoned, the stone use to hold grain as two women pounded it sweeping it back with bare feet. I can almost hear them, skirts flying, beating out a song with the sticks, and letting their voices weave prettily in, twisting bodies like flowers in the wind, every night before dinner.

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The courtyard stone with the hole is in the lower left of picture, no longer used today. 

Tradition mixes with religion, and they built their lives with these two things, using them so flawlessly that only the many festivals and festivities showcased it. When the petty everyday necessities were stripped away, creating a space for pure celebration, the power of their traditions and religion blew me off my feet.

We walked into a small room full of the village women moving and clapping like a colorful kaleidoscope turning. Mantra’s beat through the air, their chanting feverish and lilting, they beat drums and shook bells, eyes closed, moving to some unknown force. I felt it though, the joy, coursing into the space and me.

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Offering prayers and gifts to the gods

It was a New Year type festival that brought the women out of the fields and homes into this room. A break form the unending work that absorbed their lives. They sat facing a shrine covered in offerings, flowers, bananas, and sugar candies. Incense hung heavy in the room. A blessing was placed on my third eye of red and yellow. The happiness and celebration crackled through the room so strong I thought the concrete walls might explode, unable to hold it. They twirled and danced to their voices, smiling unbearably wide. I couldn’t refuse my Ama-Pela, my homestay grandmother, as she motioned me up to find my own feet moving. She laughed at my attempts to mimic the women’s beautiful dancing, but I kept dancing. It didn’t matter.

The bucket showers and hand washed laundry; the water buffaloes and cows; the plastic chairs and wooden plank beds; it all conveys a simplicity, one that I yearn for. One separate from materialism and the superfluous odds and ends of western life that tear a person away from the important.

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Sari’s dry in the wind and sun. The washing buckets lay around.

The windows in my room have been hand painted so many times the paint peels off in swatches, beautiful fabrics covered ripped chairs, and small rugs hid the uneven dirt floor. A simple room in appearance, but every corner of it filled complexly with care and purpose. The small dingy room out shines any neat mansion filled with pretty things and empty people. What looks like craziness and messiness is beautifully orchestrated chaos.

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Homes are painted blue for Lord Krishna and his protection.

Every action seems more conscious. The complexity of technology and wealth my not have reached this village, but they live complex days full of taboos, innuendos, and religious doctrines. Every color holds a meaning, every day requires a different prayer or offering. Every sari worn exactly the same way, every piece of jewelry and its place holds a meaning. The more time I spent the more I noticed. Indian culture is like staring at beautiful flower, the longer you stare, the more it reveals, you could lose yourself forever in the unending beauty and delicacy of those petals and their colors.

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A women attends to her fields in the evening.

Even eating became more evocative. The Ayurvedic principles believe eating is a form of self-worship. Instead of distancing myself with silverware from nourishment, I felt every bite of food that entered my body.

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Sharing a laugh over dinner with the family in the smoky kitchen.

No multi-tasking, no TV, just a space, a pause, to appreciate that food: just shoveling rice into my mouth sitting on my wooden stool in the smoky kitchen as women bantered back and forth, voices rising and falling. My eyes still stung, but I made myself stay while the fire burned and hands flapped roti into the flames to cook.

The simplicity made it real, made living real, made the tears not matter.

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Boys playing outside their home as the sunsets.
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