Monday, August 04, 2008

Indian Morning

On your mark- the milkman rings the doorbell

Get set- the municipal water pours through the tap into the large bucket

Go! The pressure cooker whistles for the 4th time

These sounds, along with the sunrise, symbolize the start of an Indian morning. The milkman has replaced the roosters by ringing the bell at 5:45a.m. “One minute” the mother says, rising out of bed so quickly, you wonder if she actually was sleeping. Drowsily, she grabs the steel bowl and stumbles around and over sleeping kids, husbands, in-laws and pets.

The milk is then placed on the stove and waits for a boil. The chai is made separately as the vegetables are cut to put in the pressure cooker. The cooked vegetables, which take 4 whistles in the pressure cooker, will be packed in the tiffins for school or work. Chai is shared by adults who are planning their day. Husband and wife sit and read the news before the children need to be woken up. They discuss the needs for the day, he gives her some extra cash for household expenses and she reminds him that the electricity bill needs to be paid this week. The eldest child, who is preparing for admission into the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), has been up since 4 a.m. reviewing her math homework.

The younger children lazily rise out of bed, as if each one of their body parts is waking up separately. They take slow baths until their mother knocks on the door to advocate for waiting siblings. Children step into neatly pressed uniforms: skirt and white shirt for the girl and pants and white shirt with tie for the boy. Boots are polished while toast is being buttered and milk is cooling after adding two heaping spoonfuls of sugar to the tall glass.

The room echoes with “Mumma, where is my…?” is filled in for bags, socks, pencil cases and homework. As the mother quickly steps in to locate the item, not missing a moment in her the routine, she quickly finishes packing her husband’s lunch- which include roti, daal, subji, rice and some sweet snack. She ensures the children look fresh, clothes clean and pressed and Pond’s talcum powder glistening around their chins, looking like slight white shadows around their moon shaped faces.

A comb divides long hair into ropes of ribbons in the daughter’s hair. The son’s hair, still wet and slightly oiled, is smartly parted on the right, sending curly waves floating to the left.

Backpacks filled with heavy books and water bottles that have been refilled and tightened twice will accompany the lunch of aloo and puri* for the children. Included will be Rs.1 for a snack of chickee at the recess. The mother gathers her belongings and gets ready to walk the children to school. She prepares breakfast and lunch for the father who has just finished the business section of the Times of India and is ready to step into the bathroom and the stove warmed water for him. She looks in the mirror to check her bindi and her mangalsutra. The pleats in her sari are checked again as she reminds the husband to finish up with the paper and get moving quickly. If he is late, the morning train ride on the local train is going set him in a rotten mood for the whole day.

She packs her purse and small umbrella in a plastic bag—an essential item for the monsoon season. The children trot next to the mother as they dodge sidewalk vendors, paan walas, samosa walas, coconut and fresh juice vendors, stray animals, people waiting for the bus, aunties haggling for vegetables for lunch, aggressive pedestrians and uneven sidewalks. When they finally reach the school, the mummys all gather at the gate, their saris perfectly pleated colors in pastels, primaries and geometric shapes. They stand together until each one of those braids and round faces disappear into the building.

Heading back home, she quickly picks up some fresh fruit from the vendor, haggling with him a bit for the right price. She waves hello to her friends headed in the other direction and rushes back home. Her husband just finished his breakfast and is ready to leave. The eldest daughter got herself ready and started the washing machine before she left on the local bus. Her mother-in-law is slowly finishing her morning ablutions and preparing for her pooja and will hang the clothes out to dry later. She grabs her bag for work and heads out after taking the blessings of the diya she lit in the early morning after her bath. As she heads to work on the local train, she checks her wristwatch, its 7:58—just in time for the morning local.

[From 2004-2006, I lived in India while working for a non profit organization in Mumbai. Since 2008, I have started another position that brings me to India quite frequently. This isn’t a snippet of just one family’s life, but rather an amalgamation of my observation of different families during my long term stay and short term visits to India.]

Tiffin: Portable steel containers
Roti, daal, subji: Leavened bread, lentils and cooked vegetables
Aloo and puri: Cooked potato dish and fried bread
Chikee: Peanut brittle
Paan walas and samosa walas: Paan is a mouth refresher made with betel nut and an edible, paan wala is someone who sells paan
Samosa is a deep fried potato dumpling eaten as a snack in India, samosa wala sells samosas
Mangal sutra: (necklace symbolizing her marriage)
Diya: A lamp that is lit during a pooja, can be a form of a blessing