Hello again from Purulia. Here is what is going on in October.
In Purulia October is special as the time when peoples’ minds turn to marking Jita Puja, the festival of family. However, in West Bengal and the whole of India really, people spend the whole month preparing for Durga Puja, which lasts four days and starts here this year on 18th October. In Dabar we finished the repair work on our school buildings. We are also having to face up to a disappointing harvest and future problems with our water provision. Lastly, Sundays at the school are busier than ever.
Jita Puja and Durga Puja
On 5th October we celebrated Jita Puja, the first of two important festivals that take place this month. Kudmali people have continued to mark this occasion ever since ancient times. It is the married women who organize the rituals, when they celebrate and pray for their families, for their future good health, fertility, and prosperity. This Puja is different from others because no particular god is worshiped. Instead the women make offerings to the river and sun, the two most basic essentials for life on earth.
The rituals span three days. The first day is given to preparing the food and vegetables to be offered up. On the day itself the women fast all day long, they don’t even drink water. Fasting expresses how deeply they wish that their families should prosper and enjoy good health in the future. On the day itself the women walk to the ponds or river and offer vegetables to the spirit of the water. They pray for fertility. The cucumber evokes the shape of a man’s penis and the leaf, a woman’s vagina. In the evening they gather after dusk and light candles in wicker baskets and gather in a circle to evoke the sun and its daily path. Their fast lasts until the next morning.
October also means Durga Puja, which in India is just about the biggest one of them all. It lasts for four days but the preparations go on for a whole month beforehand. Part of the tradition is to buy new clothes, in particular for the children. So Shanta, Rekha, Bodhi and Ma all went to the markets to buy outfits for the boys and girls we take care of.
The new school office
You probably remember that when the first rains came in July we were hit by a destructive storm. After just five minutes we had lost the roofs both to the school office and Class V. Even though it has been always a top priority to make the repairs, we have only just now finished the job. While putting things right, we took the opportunity to replace the roofs with concrete, to make them stronger, and to raise the ceilings, which will make the rooms more airy and cool. We also redecorated and replaced the furnishings.
This year’s harvest and our future water provision
We told you in our last blog about the good rainfall we had in July and August. The farmers immediately went out and planted their paddy seeds. They really expected they would cultivate a good harvest this year. Unfortunately the rains stopped too early and the very hot weather has returned. So any crops that we can’t irrigate are now burning in the intense sun. Many of the ponds have already dried up, mainly due to irrigation to try and save some of the crops. The water we got from the rains now has to last for many months until next year, when the next substantial rains will come.
Outsiders know the Purulia people to be hardy and resilient, that they will soldier on regardless. However, the farmers are disappointed, to say the least. The Indian government will now continue to classify our area as drought-ridden. This means people can by staples like rice at very low prices and the farmers will receive free seeds when the next opportunity for a harvest comes. Unfortunately, this does not give us higher priority in improving irrigation or our water provision in general.
So this makes plans we are drawing up to improve our water provision this year that much more important and urgent. We need to improve the water we drink, bathe and wash with, as well as doing better with general sanitation and how we dispose waste water. The villagers themselves will contribute (the principles we learned on our project management courses have helped here) because they know how important water is to their health. However, we will definitely need to raise external funds to make these improvements possible.
Sundays at the school
Sundays at the school are now busier than ever.
We have always run our Chhou Dance training and tailoring classes, plus, more recently a computer training class. Now we are also running a surgery at the medical centre. Soma, our Doctor, now comes on this day because she has started working for the Government as a schools’ health inspector. She makes regular visits to schools in her assigned part of the District to check that the children are in good health and getting enough to eat, and to identify any potential problems at an early stage.
Jaba is an expert seamstress who has been teaching our tailoring and sewing classes. Now she has also taken on the task of mending and stitching the hostel boys’ clothes. Sunday has already started off being a washing day for the boys. So they now know to bring their torn clothes to Jaba on Sundays. As you might imagine, there would seem to be no end to this job.
Sanjay Kumar Mahato