Rural Villages in India
Curious as to what a CULTUREALL workshop is really like? Marty Racheter, of Write with Racheter, Professional Writing and Editing narrated a Cultural Ambassador, Ritika Sinha’s workshop, “Rural Villages in India.”
Adorned with the red bindi on her forehead and her native Indian dress, Ritika Sinha described life in a rural village in India by first asking these sixth graders what they already knew about India. Of course they knew about the Indian Ocean, and that India was in Asia, just north of Sri Lanka.
“Yes, and did you know that we drive on the opposite side of the street than you, and that the steering wheel in on the right side? Or that we are a very spiritual country. Yoga is very important; it started in India – there are lots of spiritual components to yoga.”
Sinha had lots to tell. “Women wear a lot of gold jewelry. We use a lot of incense. The round red spot on my forehead is called a bindi, and originally was just a powder. It used to be put there to symbolize the third eye, and was a kind of protective energy. Now, though, it is more modern, and used more just for fashion, sometimes to indicate you are married.”
She was asked if her parents chose her husband, and said no, but that in lots of homes that was still true, that there is a lot of family involvement. “In America,” she said, “brides wear white. I would wear red as a bride, with my head partially covered. We really like to dress up, wear a lot of bangles. The bindi on the forehead is like a velvet sticky. The henna tattoos are good omens before special occasions.”
India is divided into 29 states, and has a population three times that of the United States, so it is very crowded. “We share houses. Grandparents live with the parents and kids.”
To give the class an idea of what life was like in rural India, she asked them to gather in a circle on the floor and pretend. They closed their eyes, took a deep breath, and with the lights off and some background sounds, were asked to transport themselves back 50 years. “You’ll see vast amounts of open land with animals running around, birds too, but mostly lots of land. You are part of a nomadic group that moves from one place to other. You have no permanent home. You are tired. You want to settle down. Where would be good?”
The class said a good water source was necessary.
“Yes, near water. And the people used to carry water in pots on their hips. They would boil the water and strain it. Houses were made of mud, topped with straw. The average size was very small, with lots of inhabitants. Those homes did not have separate rooms, but perhaps had divisions, so you might have your own little space. They put cow dung on the outside sides of the houses. Do you know why? In a wild land, cow dung will ward off snakes. It was also a source of fuel, and a fertilizer. Indians really value cows. The cows give milk, cheese and butter, and helped the rural people survive,” she explained. The people also grew wheat for whole wheat tortillas.
Sinha had the class pretend to sleep, with volunteers to be a family of children, parents, and grandparents. “There are no alarm clocks,” she said. “The roosters wake you up. When little kids wake up, they say a little prayer, then go to the grandparents and touch their feet to get blessings. Go on! Go to your grandparents!” And the designated “children” crossed the room and, to general laughter, touched the feet of their “parents.” “Then they go to their parents for their blessings,” said Sinha. “Go on! The parents get blessings from their parents, too. Go!”
Once everyone was settled again, she told them about the villagers’ dental hygiene. “They would brush their teeth with a finger, giving a finger massage, or brush with a neem stick from the neem tree. Keep chewing on just one end. It is very bitter, but if you keep biting the end it becomes like the bristles on a brush, then you chew it all around. The neem stick made the teeth whiter. It also helps remove bacteria, and is an anti-fungal. You can break a fever if you take its leaves, boil them, strain and drink it. The neem tree is given lots of respect in India. People used to pray to the neem tree.”
She said children walked to school, for there were no busses. People in the villages elected the most knowledgable among the adults to be the teachers. “Before a gouda (teacher) could teach, he had to do yoga – center the body to channel energy to focus better.”
She explained a little about yoga, and had the students, still in a circle on the floor, assume the position. “The first rule is to keep your spine absolutely straight,” she said. “It opens energy channels. Crossing the legs like this is beneficial for circulation in the hips. Breathing is very important. Breathe deeply, slowly, calmly.” Then she had everyone make a noise like a bumblebee. “Just buzz like a bee, doing all those mmmmmmm-s together. Do it with good energy to make your chest vibrate. Now, separate your thumbs from your first fingers, separate them from the other three fingers. There are planetary connections between fingers and planets, you see. Sit cross legged, block your ears, touch your forehead, put three fingers over your eyes, take a deep breath, hold it, let me hear your mmmmmmm-s. It must be more powerful.” Soon the whole class was mmmmmmmm-ing!
“Let me hear you do it four times and then you will feel something in your brain. If your eyes are blurring, you did it right. Do you hear buzzing in your brain? You should! The longer you do it, the more you feel. You are generating alpha waves in the brain. We used to call it creative waves. They help improve memory and mood, increase concentration, and help with creativity. Yoga is good for a thousand other things!”
Sinha passed out Indian seeds that are “used to cool the tummy after eating a meal. They taste lot like black licorice.” They were, of course, fennel seeds, and she was still talking to the class about such home remedies and life in India when the bell signaled time for the next workshop.