Returning to Bhopal I find my sump has been ‘hacked’ by water deprived neighbours. In my absence back in Australia, they decided it was cheaper to pipe from my supply than repair the pump to their bore.
In fact my arrival caused somewhat of a shock to their servants. While I did not over act to this innocent piracy, I was not impressed when they refused to let me turn off my own sump tap as water refilled from the mains.
It seems my partner had another cause of consternation. The neighbours cleaner had offered to sweep out the house before she began her work there at 10 am. For some reason the neighbour accused us of poaching her staff – “Where are your principles?” she demanded even though she had evicted them from her home and Advity had allowed them temporarily to stay in space behind my rental.
It seems the only ethics offended is her pride. Guilty conscience at being caught out for ripping offer her workers and the risk of being publicly shamed. Shame seems compelling in the network of down to earth grittiness in the lived details of architectural planning and haphazard lives.
What does it reveal about me?
Bhopal is less compact than some Indian cities, its variegated population exudes a surprising hope in the dense safety of knowing everyone possible. With a roving population can that be really true? All cities In a society, or ashram yes perhaps. I suppose the locals have their myths. It seems cities are now only for business or cars. How dare you put in a RTB lanes and expect the middle class to take the bus!
Later , that day, as I cycled to Shahjehanabad, through Bitten market, I smiled at the fancy plastic angles of modern forms will soon look like 70’s forgotten architectural leftovers. I was reminded of an architectural conference that spoke of fancy designers who forgot the toilets.
Then at MP Nagar for Poha, the grass close to the rail ray line, reminds me cities are like ecosystems. (Will that ever be true in India, I wonder, when in Delhi, stone pavers blocked the water run off and is reducing the water table?).
Finally, in the Old City. I love the small blocks and allies that chance new discoveries. Past the lower lakes Shri Mataji Temple, used more , it seems for washing clothes than worship, then across to Bara Bagh.
I reflect on the dignity of the old Muslim cemetery. I would prefer the serenity of a stupa than a therapist, I decided. In that moment I remember own social mistakes. The uncouth loudness of an outback Aussie at times outspokenly offending neighbours who had politely left unsaid what they thought I would understand.
India confronts me. It forces me to face my shadows.
Cities are like people. They offer hope and freedom, and oppress others. Behind houses , each side tells a truth of the experience. Every culture has a dark underbelly a shadow it wants to hide.
In Australia, a people yearned to be free, yet they ignored the oppression of aboriginals or blackbirds, the islander ‘labourers’ who worked the cane fields.
“They must work for it”, I hear them scream. “No more hand outs.”
Something of an older tribal walking by reminds me of an aboriginal body ritual, tattoo scarred like the stripped earth mined for a profit and scars our soul.
No country is better or worse. In every land we find the focus on national identity and values shaped by a nation’s myth. We also find the exact opposite, simultaneously. Perhaps less, focused, a shadow diffused through the masses, at times through its underclass.
In India perhaps it is Kashmir that is denied. Or we praise Akbar’s tolerance yet ignore the women of Gwalior who burned themselves alive rather than be his soldiers concubines.
Or should we criticise Aurangzeb oppression yet ignore the Hindu temples he sponsored no doubt out of political need? Admire Gandhi for non violence and ignore that in the process – as well meaning as it was – he alienated his son?
The West praises it heritage freedom and ignores Ashoka offered equal right s for all sexes, religions and castes. Greek democracy applied only to the 20 percent male population and not women. It took the US 150 years to legally ensure black people “were created equal” and enjoy “the pursuit of happiness” enshrined in their constitution. Australia took 68 years to recognise Aboriginals as citizens.
So much for its principles.
Meanwhile, India’s Constitution gave equality to all 2 years and 4 months after Independence. All three lands have racial shadows haunting them.
Next morning as I dig soil at dawn, the Sindor swastika from yesterdays Pooja attracts the dancing feet of minor birds pecking rice from the remains of offered rice. A small satin blue bird dances in the tree above the hardened shallow soil.
Then, I find a yellow envelope waiting addressed from Delhi. It must have arrived while I was away. The customs declaration is ticked gift, and described as “ORNAMENTAL BEADS FOR DECORATION ONLY”. Of course , in it seeds in plastic envelopes were inserted in a standard sized envelope also yellow.
It’s probably cheaper than admitting seeds are being posted, i thought.
“WITHANIA somnifera , ashawaganda Indian Ginseng”
“stevia revaudiana sweetleaf , sweet leaf, sugarleaf seeds”
“seeds tribulus terrestris puncture vine SPEED POST”
So much for principles.