Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Housekeeping in India

Woman cleaning grain outside her home.

The following is taken from Rumer Godden's short story "The Oyster," about a young Indian, Gopal, of the Hindu Brahmin caste, who is happily studying in France and learning all things western. While out to dinner with his French friend, Rene, Gopal suddenly finds himself desperately missing India:

Rene saw the tears and was concerned.... 'What is it, Gopal-ji?' he asked.

'I -- swallowed -- sometthing hot,' said Gopal.

'But you are used to hot things.'

'Yes, chillies,' said Gopal and laughed, but it was not safe to think of such homely thngs as chillies; they made him see a string of them, scarlet, in the kitchen. He saw the kitchen, and his mother's housekeeping, which had often seemed to him old-fashioned and superstitious, now seemed as simple and pure as a prayer; as -- as uncruel, he thought. His mother rose at five and woke the children so that they could make their morning ritual to the sun; ... She saw that the house was cleaned, then did the accounts and then, still early, sent Jai, as the eldest son, to market with the list of household things to buy and the careful allowance of money -- few Indian women shopped in the market. When Jai came back, with a coolie boy carrying the basket on his head, the basket had a load of vegetables, pale green lettuce and lady's fingers, perhaps, or glossy purple eggplants, beans, the pearly paleness of Indian corn still in its sheaf. There would be coconut too, ghee-butter and the inevitable pot of curd made fresh that day.

Woman feeding cabbage to a cow outside her home.

The kitchen was very clean; no one was allowed to go there in shoes or in street clothes, and before Gopal and Jai ate they washed and changed or took off their shirts. The women ate apart, .... All was modesty, cleanliness, quiet -- and it does no hurt, through Gopal, shuddering. All of it had an inner meaning so that it was not -- not just of earth, he thought. Once a month was household day when the pots and sweeping brushes were worshipped. First they were cleaned, the brass scoured with wood-ash until it shone pale gold, the silver made bright, the brushes and dusting-cloths washed, cupboards turned out, everything washed again in running water and dried sun; then prayers were said for the household tools, and marigold flowers and jessamine were put on the shelves. I used to think it was stupid, thought Gopal; I teased my mother and called her ignorant to believe in such things, but they made it all different, quite different!

Doing the laundry in Uttar Pradesh, India.

Photographs by Claude Renault. See many more photos of India in his fascinating and beautiful blog.


Jodi said...


Lindsay said...

Just lovely. I just discovered your blog, and I look forward to a chance to explore more!

Heidi Saxton said...

I found you here after a visit to the "Tea at Trianon" blog -- what a lovely site!

Heidi Saxton
Extraordinary Moms Network