Two days with Bhagat Ji and snakes

rice paddy

Bhagat Ji and the invisible snakes

The last two days it has been me and Bhagat Ji and snakes here on the farm. Mickey has gone to see his sister for a festival of The Sister. He was most apologetic about having to go leaving me alone, and even invited me to go with him to meet his mum and sister and all the kids. After a little discussion we decided that it was probably best if I stayed behind. His mum doesn’t speak english and I’d have felt like a prune. So I’m here alone and I don’t mind 🙂 It has given me a chance to get to know Bhagat Ji a little.

I was made to promise that I wouldn’t stray from the road outside the house. Mickey feels responsible for my safety. Not that there is much to fear except snakes. This is the monsoon season and when the rain comes the snakes vacate their holes or drown. There is one rule here on the farm, all doors are to be kept shut so that snakes don’t enter the house. Apparently there are cobras in this area.

More invisible snakes

I have to say that I haven’t seen any snakes yet which is good in a way but I’d love to get some video. I’m sure that the opportunity will present itself. So I have spent the time writing these blog posts on my tablet in the absence of my Mac, taking photos and eating lovely food. This morning it was bhindi and chapatis for breakfast. Bhindi is also known as okra or ladies fingers. They are one of my favourite vegetables so I was happy.

My computer has been repaired and will accompany Mickey when he returns from south west Delhi, near the Indira Ghandi airport. Then I’ll have to process these photos and get this text on the blog site. That will take a while because I have the spanish translations to do too.

Maybe snakes

Just in front of the gates of Satya Dhaam Farm is an unused open piece of land. The passing buffalo and cow drawn carts often stop for a bite to eat. The patch is alive with butterflies in the morning. I’ve been out trying to get some photos but they are so quick and erratic in their flight. The best I have been able to get is some video. My little video camera has a WiFi connection so that I can set up the camera and control it from my tablet at a distance. The most common butterfly is a white one, which close up have mother of pearl colours. There are also some little bright yellow ones and some large orange ones. The orange butterflies seem to be the most timid. There are also some tiny grey/brown and lilac ones that are hard to see, they are the size of a thumbnail. I’m guessing there is the odd snake too, sunning itself, but I work on the principle that they are more scared of me than I am of them. So I make a bit of noise and hope they slither off in the opposite direction.

Some of the flora of this area

I’m also going to take the opportunity to write about some of the plants here. Firstly, of course, is the sugar cane. As you can see from the photo they are tied up with leaves. This is to stop them falling over which would make the harvesting harder. The cane is grown from cuttings from the first year’s growth, sugar cane has a two year cycle. Two “knuckles” are taken and planted. The cutting strikes roots and the next crop is on its way. A calculation is made as to how many plants will be needed for next year’s crop and the appropriate amount of cane is put aside. The first year’s cane is harvested in late December – March and second years growth is October – December. (For those that want more information, here is a link.) A vehicle with weighing scales parks outside the gates here during the harvest season, where the buffalo and cows breakfast. The local farmers bring their cane for weighing and payment. The cane is then shipped off to the sugar mill up in Simbhaoli for processing.

curry leaves but no snakes
Curry leaves
This plant is called, in english, curry leaves. It has nothing to do with curry per se other than it is used as a seasoning. It grows wild and has a slightly bitter, peppery taste. A lot of Indian cooking will use this plant as a flavouring.

lentils or dal no snakes
Lentils or dal
These plants are dal, or lentils to us Europeans. There really isn’t need to write more.

Jamun or Portuguese plum
Jamun tree
Unfortunately this Jamun tree has come to the end of it’s season so that there aren’t many fruit left to see. Jamun means “purple” in hindi. In english the tree is sometimes called Java plum, Malabar plum or Portuguese plum. There are plenty of fruit on the ground 🙁 It is a small cherry like fruit that has a slightly bitter/sweet taste. I am told that it is good for diabetes. Here is an Indian site that deals with Jamun farming. The Jamun tree has been introduced to many countries such as Brazil and Hawaii. In the latter it has become invasive.

Neem tree and berries
The neem tree I mentioned in this post, but for those that want more details you can find it here. In general neem seems to be a useful medicinal plant but I have included here a link with possible side effects. If you are in doubt it’s probably best to consult your doctor or an alternative healer. They say where there is neem there are no mosquitoes. I once thought of trying to bring neem to Spain, I figured it could have been a commercial proposition in the right areas. But now, having met the tree in its natural environment I think Spain would be too dry.

So, as you can see, really the only thing that I can find here that could be classed as dangerous are snakes 😀 and I still haven’t seen one. That said, we’ve just had a mighty monsoon downpour so maybe some will pop round for a photo call?

Uttar Pradesh farming community

Farming community rice paddy

Morning walk in the Uttar Pradesh farming community

This is the Uttar Pradesh country side, a farming community. The first night we hit the sack at about 21:30 and we woke at 05:30 and it feels good. Bhagat Ji brought the tea, rich with spices and ginger I think, and sweet enough to tempt a bee. The fresh air knocked me out last night.

Green fodder farming community
Green fodder for livestock

wild cannabis in a farming community
wild cannabis growing on roadside verges
My first morning’s walk in this Uttar Pradesh farming community was about 6km down little country roads with its fragrant verges. I still can’t take in the wild cannabis everywhere. So I put a pic on Facebook. We strolled amongst the fields of sugar cane, the green fodder (which Mickey tells me is a barley) that grows to ten feet tall, maize, lentils and pulses and rice. The smell of the growing rice is heavy in the still humid air.

Cutting green fodder by hand
Cutting green fodder by hand
People are in the fields cutting these crops by hand. Families, neighbours working side by side. No big machinery here just honest labour. The transport is buffalo driven carts. In one field is a neighbour of Mickey’s harvesting corn. They stop to talk. Namaste. I’m inspected. And why not? A white man in a sea of happy brown faces. Apparently this corn is someone else’s but this group are harvesting it in exchange for the plant matter that will be used to feed livestock. No tax man here this is a farming community where barter is practiced! We stop and talk to an elderly man having a rest. He too is a neighbour of Mickey’s and this is his abode in the picture. These people have been up for hours working. We’re the lazy ones.

The Jat, Jut or Jaat people of Uttar Pradesh

Mickey had told me that these people are Jats, they originated in Jutland, northern Denmark. It’s hard to imagine these people being of Scandinavian origin but as you’ll see in the linked articles [1] [2] [3] there is some basis for this assertion.

Indian kingfisher
Indian kingfisher
There are kingfishers on the electrical wires, white long-necked birds whose name I’ve yet to find out, peacocks, the national bird, roam wild and they are tricky and cunning. Getting a photo is no easy matter. Neem trees grow all over. The neem is known for it’s benefit to health, so I’m munching the leaves daily. There are mango orchards. (Oh why didn’t I come a month earlier?) This is the land of plenty.

Second walk in the farming community

Our second day’s walk we walk a circle, meeting up with where we were the day before. More neem for breakfast. Passing through the village of Singanapura we hear an English class in the primary school.

I is for ice cream.

I is for India.

Farming community village elders
Singanapura village elders
A young man stops on on his motor bike. His English is good and he’s called Pawan. Pawan has just passed his exams to be a policeman and is waiting his first posting at the end of this month. As in UK (and I guess elsewhere) he will be sent out of his area to serve. We meet his grandfather and a village elder, both in their eighties. I pose for photos with them. Let’s face it, I’m an interest factor. In return the two elders pose for me. Pawan invites us back for tea. We accept the invitation but ask if we might walk a little further first.

farming community village school
Singanapura village school with Mannpreet Singh Khaira
Primary school children
Primary school children
I guess the news has hit the street of this farming community. Pawan has a foreigner coming for tea. Passing the primary school on our return we are greeted by the teacher of I is for ice cream. This is Manpreet Singh Khaira and he comes from Hapur to teach these children. He welcomes us and invites us to see his class. They are youngsters, maybe around 6 to 7 years old (I forgot to ask) some may be younger. I think they are a bit overawed by the white foreigner but they recite their english alphabet well. It is a classroom with no books. This is on purpose. It is also where they get their government lunch. And it’s nearly lunch time. I pop next door to what would be the kindergarten in Europe. The hindi alphabet is on the blackboard. This is where I belong! I pose for photos with some of the children, Manpreet, his principal and a colleagues.

Kindergarten with Hindi alphabet
Kindergarten with Hindi alphabet – were I belong

The school uniforms

Handing out school uniforms in a farming community village school
Handing out school uniforms in a farming community village school
We are just taking our leave to go for tea when we are called back. Would I do them the honour of presenting some of the children with their new uniforms? I promise you the honour was all mine. I was sat at a desk with the new packaged uniforms. The children’s names were read off the labels. Let’s face it, I hadn’t a hope of reading this beautiful script. I’d only stuck my nose into the kindergarten room with the letters on the blackboard. The children accepted the uniforms with the “namaste” greeting, which I returned not knowing if that was correct or not. But no one corrected me and it seemed the right thing. I have to say I found the whole thing quite emotional. These folk are probably the most friendly, open people I have ever met. And I say again, it was an honour and a privilege above my station to have been allowed to not only see but participate in their day.

Now tea.

We walk back to the centre of the village in this farming community, to Pawan’s family house. Cold water is served while the tea is made. It transpires that one of Pawan’s ancestors (probably his great grandfather) was a freedom fighter. Freedom from the British rule. Pawan earned credits in his police entrance application for having an ancestor that was a freedom fighter.

We are accompanied by Manpreet Khaira and a colleague. Little snacks appear and the rich tea is served. Tea here is taken like coffee in Europe, in little cups. We talk about the education of the children and how difficult it is for them to maintain a standard of english in a tiny village where everyone speaks hindi. But english is one of the national languages for which these children will probably never have a use. Manpreet and I exchange emails, facebook, phone numbers etc. and I am told that if there is anything he may do for me or any help he can give that I am not to hesitate in contacting him.

Why isn’t the rest of the world like this? I think we may have a lot to learn from India – AGAIN.

Uttar Pradesh farming communities

Seeing some of these farming community villages, some would be lead to think “poverty”. You would be wrong. These people are educated people with rich lives that Europe has long left behind in it’s obsession with consumer driven capitalism and a “free market economy”. I feel at home here and I’ve only been here a few days. In some sense I am dreading my return to Delhi for the remainder of my dental treatment.

Two days walking in the Ladpur area