Day 5 India

Tuesday, 27 December

Up relatively early to travel 20 km by auto (three-wheeled motorised rickshaw) to see some land owned by my hosts. These green and yellow rickshaws are everywhere in Bengal, except perhaps in central Kolkata. Sometimes they have fixed routes and you can travel quite long distances by transferring from route to route at certain locations. Weaving along Indian roads in heavy traffic, like a dodgem ride without a seat belt, is unnerving to start with but I’m used to it by now and the pace of traffic is slow. We are only close to one incident when a rider on a passing motorbike swerves and loses control (he falls off shortly after but is able to get up unaided).

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this patch of land, the expanse making the word “patch” inappropriate. At the same time, apprehensive as I feared that snakes might dispute that this is human domain. I’ve not access to the statistics but farmers are vulnerable to snakebites. They are underreported, many people not going to the hospital, some relying on folk medicine “remedies” (one research report I read mentions the practice of tying a stone (snake stone) to the bite wound and then getting the patient to walk on it to draw out the venom). In these parts, it’s most often the highly venomous krait that bites. The most dangerous period of the year is the monsoon when snakes like people are disturbed by water masses and have to leave their accustomed locations.

I need not have worried about this smallholding, however. The land is open without long grass and you can see where you are putting your feet. About as likely as being bitten by a weasel in West Sussex, unless you root around in the vegetation at the foot of the banana trees.

It felt very fine to sit calmly close to the pond after being much indoors during the days of yule. It’s important here to have a pond to store monsoon water as it doesn’t rain much at other times.

Back at the house, I sleep most of the afternoon, dreaming unpleasantly that I am climbing down the outside of a very tall building. It got better toward the end though when I realised that trying to scale down the exterior could only lead to disaster and I slid through some convenient aperture to land on a rather domestic carpet, whence I could make my way down the stairs.

I finished Chattopadhyay’s novels in the wee hours, still anarchic when it comes to the Circadian with periods of alertness not related to Bengali or European time. I have much more respect for the novel after a careful reading, although I felt he pulled his punches at the end when the emancipated lady finds her ally in life, resolves her financial problems and gains the respect of the most bitterly traditional of her opponents. But it was after all written as long ago as 1931; Chattopadhyay is skilful at making didactic dialogue readable.

I’ll do some Bengali today – I have practised saying “cold water” when our driver threw himself into the pond. I wouldn’t have done that for fear of terrors in the deep but he emerged refreshed and unscathed.

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