This was my morning on Thursday.
I noticed a lot of people (more than usual) out and about before 7a.m. Must be a festival or temple-something or other.
I walk to Siva Kumari’s house to pick up the key to the Computer School where I teach Spoken English at 7a.m. As I turn down the lane towards their house I see the men putting up a “shaminya” or a colorful canopy often used when there is a special function*. I wonder what must be happening and figure a neighbor is using the space close to Siva Kumari’s house, then I have an immediate next thought — oh no. It cannot be. We aren’t mourning are we?? And as I near Siva Kumari’s house I see the body laid out on the porch, covered with a sheet, Siva Kumari’s mother is sitting beside the body rocking back and forth, moaning. The deceased is Siva Kumari, one of our Pearly Gates workers. She had only been sick a few days but it was much worse than expected, I guess. She died at 3am and now her body was at the house for this mourning period. I kneel down beside her mother, and pray over her and the dead body (the face is uncovered, there is no casket, thankfully the weather is nice enough we won’t have to deal w/ extreme heat today) then I go look for Anusha, Siva Kumari’s daughter — she is in college, just 18 years old or so. I don’t know Siva Kumari’s exact age, I’m assuming mid to late 30s. I find Anusha and her 16 year old sister inside. I hug them and sit for a few moments. I don’t ask about the classroom key; it seems inappropriate and unimportant. After just a few minutes I leave. I still need to teach English and I know the kids are waiting.
Sure enough, the students are waiting. Since we don’t have a key to our regular classroom, we all trot down to Chandra’s house to get a key to the Pearly Gates Center. We can sit in a classroom there or on its porch.
On the way, Induja (one of my students) happily informs me it’s a festival day (aah! that’s why the people were out and about). Which festival? “Snake festival, auntie!” “Oh yes, milk and snakes,” I say, remembering aloud what I know about this particular festival when milk — and eggs, Induja tells me — are offered to snakes. “Snakes are happy today, auntie!” she says. “They’re still dangerous,” I say. We pass a few families gathered by the side of the road leaving these offerings, lighting candles and saying prayers over a heavily decorated snake mound.
After fetching the key to the Center, and me getting some more details about Siva Kumari’s death, we walk back to the Center. As we approach the gate we startle two YOUNG boys (maybe 4 years old!!!) who were just about to light another fire cracker, a remnant of Diwali festival on Sunday, they had lodged in the gate lock. They literally jump and run away, leaving one unlit firecracker (and evidence of several others already used) stuck in the latch. I grab it out of the latch and wave it at the boys saying, “It’s mine now!”
All this before 7:30a.m.
This is my India.
*remind me to tell more about the “mature function”, a party when everyone celebrates a young lady getting her first menstrual period.