Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Opium Bores

It had been billed as a half-day Bishnoi village safari, but turned out to be far more than that.

With a half day to spare in Jodhpur between the end of the music festival and the train back to Delhi, a five-hour village tour sounded ideal. Plus, I have more than a passing interest in the Bishnois, a sect of Hindu eco warriors, who famously offer their heads in place of trees earmarked to be cut down.

Of course, being the morning after the night before we were already a little weary, so missed the 8am wakeup call by a half hour, but soon were away from the smog and noise of the city and heading off-road, on soft sands pockmarked by tufts of tundra.

The first stop was a small hut at the end of a barren stretch of road. It was home to a Bishnoi family. Only the children were home and we sat on a scratch camel hair rug and drank tea, but they shrugged when I tried to ask searing questions about their faith and devotion to living things.

The next stop - punctuated by a quick detour to check out at a local watering hole where migrating Siberian ibises had set up camp - was at the home of a master weaver, whose modest home, with blue paint flaking attractively off the timber beamed door, was like something out of a Taschen book.

His recently bereaved wife and her granddaughter showed me their matching silver ankle bracelets, part of the traditional dowry of their community. They are soldered on at their marriage time and thereafter are never removed, even after their husbands pass on. Each anklet weighs half a kilo.

Next up was another village homestead, a cluster of well-maintained rustic huts in the midst of a courtyard, with a couple of open-air shaded shelters. This was home to the extended family of Baba Ram, a farmer of the Choudhury caste. Baba had worked hard to have the means to educate his sons, both now working at one of Jodhpur's best hospitals, a source of immense pride to their father.

Despite the relative modesty of the buildings, the Choudhary family does well: inside the two enclosed built rooms (erected for the benefit of the sons' new wives) was an air cooler, a fridge, a TV, a DVD player and various other modernities.

Baba took us into another section with a roof covering made from bound branches, sat us down on a charpoy and pulled a small lump of opium from deep within his robes. Then he flaked off a bit into a wooden bowl, added water (Bisleri, for our benefit) and started rubbing vigorously to make a paste. This he then added to the top of a wooden contraption, added more water and offered it round, all the time chanting in praise of Shiva.

The opium ceremony, you see, is apparently to legitimise the repeated, ongoing use of opium by farmers to enable them to work the long, hard hours required.

Unfortunately it just tasted like mud to me and had no conceivable effect.


Mezze Moments said...

OH MY GOD what a shame !! Are you sure it was the right stuff and not mud ? Love m

molly said...

exactly what i was just thinking, mezze.

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