We have been enjoying new friends and experiences on board a little river vessel on the Brahmaputra River. Our dinner table conversations were especially interesting.
For example, there is always a lot in the papers about Kashmere. As you probably know, it is supposed to be very beautiful, but it continues to be a “hot spot” and problem area between India and Pakistan. This topic brought us to Partition, which has surprised me because of the sense of immediacy about it, even though it happened more than 50 years ago. It reminds me of visiting England 30 years ago when people talked about “the war” as if it had just ended a week or so in the past.
There is hardly a family that has not been affected by Partition — just mentioning the word will unloose a tale about having to leave Pakistan for India. And, I’m sure if one were in Pakistan, it would be the same way regarding leaving India for Pakistan. Of course, we were aware of the event, but we were not aware of many of the details — the terrible loss of life, terrorism, etc., which resulted. Thousands and thousands of people were killed; both Hindus and Muslims, and so many people were forced to leave their longtime homes.
We visited a village while we were on the Brahmaputra located on the mainland. There were 100 to 150 houses spread around a fairly large area, and the people were very industrious. They had a large flock of chickens in a “caged egg” house. In addition they raised sugar cane and ground it, made molasses, and from molasses, made sugar or “jiggery.” One enterprising man had purchased a big tractor that he rents out to others on the island.
School was out, but many of the children were wearing their uniforms —navy blue shorts or jumpers and light blue shirts. The children “out of uniform” were very ragged and poorly dressed. The school has a midday meal “scheme,” which provides a good lunch for all the children and encourages parents to keep them in school instead of putting them to work. Many of the children proudly brought their schoolbooks to show us. One little boy who stuck to me like glue had a ballpoint pen fastened to his shirt. He was very proud of it — he had won it at school as a prize!
The village has electricity and several wells with pumps located around the place. The houses are huts of various types, some with thatched roofs, others with roofs of sheet metal or palm. They are mostly plastered with wattle, although there is heavy use of woven bamboo screens or shades. We saw several handlooms looms working, as well as the agricultural work. The money crops are bamboo, mustard seed, and wheat. And in addition to chickens, they raise cows and goats. The cow dung is very useful to them. They use it in building their houses and also on “shish kabobs” — 4-foot sticks with lumps of dung attached. When these are dried, they can conveniently be used as fuel. The little wood they have is not used unless it is dead.