Two By Two
…THE VILLAGE’S BEST FRIENDS.
We might be in the Himalayas and far from the dust and pollution of Delhi but the overwhelming smell of Gunehar is not fresh air.
There are two main smells: smoke and cow dung. The smoke is from various fires – someone is always burning something – and from the villagers’ wood-fired cooking stoves.
Where I live there are signs telling you to dispose of your doggy-doo under penalty of fines. Here the cows shit wherever and there it stays. Occasionally you step in it.
Yesterday one of the cows walking past Frank’s house in the morning had clearly had an upset tummy. Someone had put sand over that, not that it made a lot of difference.
By the same token, the second most common sounds are those of animals – dogs, cows, goats, donkeys and roosters. The most common sound is people, yelling. People yell a lot here. They often don’t seem to be able to converse any other way. And they don’t care who hears them. I don’t know if it’s the heat, or the patriarchy or the fact that there are so many people you have to yell to be heard, or all three, but there is one hell of a lot of yelling.
The village animals – probably not so much the dogs – are essential to the villagers’ lives and livelihood. Most people have animals, some have several. People seem for the most part to be either goat people or cow people but some have both.
Every morning the cows and goats are walked to the river and every evening they’re walked back again. Mostly they’re tied up when they’re at home again, generally on very short leads, which is kind of hard to see but understandable given their value.
Goats are kept for wool and milk and occasionally their meat. Cows of course are never eaten here. Aside from their milk, these are also working cows.
The village grows 2-3 crops a year in a never-ending cycle of harvesting and sowing. Wheat is followed by corn which is follows by rice. We arrived here as wheat was being harvested, carried, sifted and sorted, etc. Over the last week, on the small terraced fields/paddies outside our house, a young woman has dug soil from a bank, carried it and disperse it in piles around the terraces. Today two cows came, with a very makeshift looking yoke, pulling a small traditional plough, steered by a man constantly cajoling them. This was not the 21st century. It was barely the 20th.
The cows are very gentle, as cows are. The goats often look as though, given half a chance, they’d like to ram you off the road and over a bank. They’re also very curious. The other day one got into one of the artists’ shops and started eating some of her exhibits. This morning when I walked past she said a bunch of goats had had another go at another one of her pieces as they walked past. I asked if it was the same culprit. “Oh no, no, no. I would recognise Gogo anywhere!” I guess being on a first name basis with a goat in a small village is to be expected.
As for dogs, there are several to be heard barking ceaselessly at night. They don’t seem to be held in the same affection as we hold them in New Zealand; I’ve only ever seen one in the village square and he ran away when he saw me. I figured it was the hair.
There are tens of millions of these small self-sustaining farm units all over India. They are the backbone of the Indian food industry. To modernise any part of it substantially – or even modestly – would destroy the livelihoods of the bulk of India’s rural population – hundreds of millions of people.