2.22.2011

LAUNDRY ON SUNDAY



The last pictures I took of India were on laundry day. Little wonder: after two and a half weeks on the road, I’m ready to wash my clothes too, and missing the routines and comforts of home. I think it will take me  along time to wrap my mind around everything I have seen.


Every Sunday, people throng to the steps of the temples around the Udaipur lake to do the wash. The women pour water over their long hair, children swim and splash off the steps, teenagers dive off the walls and shove each other playfully. Its generally a scene of cozy merriment.


Everyone cleans their clothes, soaping them, beating them with large flat paddles, soaking and rinsing them, wringing them out, and letting them catch the breezes before draping them over the steps to dry in the hot sun.  I have no doubt that clothes have been cleaned in exactly the same way, in exactly the same places, for hundreds of years--and that’s one of the most amazing things about being in India.  This scene was playing out in towns all over the country.


In so many corners of India--and we covered only one state, Rajasthan--life is played out exactly as it always has been. Sludgy water sluices through open sewers past everyone’s doors, spilling into the lake. 


Cars and motorcycles share the road with cows and goats and camels and donkeys and dogs, everyone moving amiably along. It was stunning, at first, and frightening, to watch cars careen past cows, but I got used to the sight. The animals were familiar to the townspeople, of course, and I began to see them as slightly befuddled creatures just trying to make their way, like we all were. In the countryside, oxen turn wheels to bring up water from cisterns to irrigate the fields. Shepherdesses in brilliant saris tend their flocks of goats and sheep. Nothing has changed.


And of course, everything is always changing. I kept thinking about which of my friends would love being in India, and which would loathe it. (You probably know who you are.) It is achingly difficult, emotionally draining, to see the poverty and filth in which people live. India is also a brilliantly beautiful place, full of imagination and creativity and craft, a place in which the past is as alive as the present--often there doesn’t even seem to be a line between past and present--and there aren't many places in which Americans get a sense of that in our country. From so many people we met, no matter rich or poor, we picked up a sense of peaceful acceptance--not resignation--about what life hands you. That, too, could be deceptive. There’s no point in romanticizing, or summarizing. It’s impossible. That largeness turned out to be the most wonderful thing about India.


19 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Design Elements said...

i like these photos!!!

Madgew said...

Love the India women and washing clothes. When you see this on the Ganges it is amazing because the Ganges is filled with dead bodies, ash from the burning of the bodies and lots of junk floating around. Yet, the people come everyday and bathe and play and wash in the Ganges. If we did that we would be sick beyond belief.I had a friend who had to try the Ganges and he ended up coming home with an infection that put him in the hospital for days. But he had to have the experience. I enjoyed the sunset and sunrise boating on Ganges-night bodies burning on the shores and morning just beautiful with everyone starting to wash. I absolutely loved India and after I do my other bucket list items I will return. Thanks for bringing me back Dominique.

david terry said...

Well, Ms. Browning.....

I just read your sentence:

"The animals were familiar to the townspeople, of course, and I began to see them as slightly befuddled creatures just trying to make their way, like we all were."

That's a wonderful sentence (in terms of both content and structure). There's a very-very good reason that, when I was first given your first book (10 years or so ago....and which, to be honest, I began with the assumption that it would be yet another mish-mash of Martha-Stewarty, self-congratulatory gibbledy-gobble), I recognized that a friend had just introduced me to a very fine writer.

So, thank you for that very fine sentence and its incumbent (unless the reader really is VERY stupid or insensitive) recognitions. I just wiped/copied it, and sent it on to two friends ()both are, actually, over seventy) who, I expect, will greatly appreciate it.,

Quite Sincerely,

David Terry
www.davidterryart.com

P.S.? I hope everyone has the Very Good Sense to not even respond (in the least) to the comments of "anonymous" (the fellow who seems intent on marrying his apparently uber-desirable self to only foreign women?).???? I've gathered that you, Ms. Browning, are interested in doing what might be referred to as "building bridges". Thus, I expect it should come as no surprise to you (at this stage of your career) that, every time you build one, some damned troll will move in and try to make it his home. So, don't give him the obviously-anticipated pleasure of responding in the least.

----advisedly yours as ever, The Rev. Dr. D.C. Terry

Anonymous said...

Reverand, old chap, is Ms. Browning looking for a husband? Doubt her magazine folded over and she found herself out of a job to devote herself slowly to an otherwise unavailable man. She's too pure for that anyway.

Lisa Stockwell said...

Thank you Dominique for bringing me back too to India and all its colors and contrasts. It's been wonderful traveling vicariously along with you.

Cristina said...

I deeply enjoied these beautiful pictures of yours (my favourite one is the first, so fascinating in its brilliant stillness), even if I would be more than aghast if I had to wash my laundry or myself that way...

c said...

so, toilets used for grain storage now make sense, right?

Dominique said...

well, rev, I felt like deleting, so I did. I'm not up for decorating the top of the comments with a misguided screed on American women...but I am finding compassion in imagining all the pain that must have led to that. I am beginning to understand: sometimes bridges exact tolls. And sometimes, you have to make a U turn outta the way...

Toilets for grain storage? yes, more than makes sense...I was particularly struck by the signs to save the lakes, hovering over of all the sewage and grey water pouring into it. This isn't judgmental. It is observation. I suspect that eventually, people will come to understand how pollution sickens them--and see, too, that there are other ways to live, and demand change--as it is fated to happen...!

A Life Unhurried said...

Dominique, I love these images you captured. Oh, the colours! Thank you for sharing your journey through your lens and inspiring writing. -Grace

William said...

Yes, Dominique, that was quite a rant on American women. As I was reading it I was thinking how lucky that fellow is to have never come across a woman from my country, Kazakhstan. Talk about trouble, I mean WOWZA!

david terry said...

I'm glad that initial posting from "anonymous" is gone. To be honest, it didn't seem amusing or (most importantly) sincere.

As I've thought previously?....there's a Very Good Reason that God Made you an editor.

More interestingly and amusingly (I hope)?.....

I read your comment "This isn't judgmental. It is observation..", ......

...and I immediately thought of one of my favorite scenes from a movie from-the-past-15-years. I should emphasize that, for better or worse, I don't watch television, and I don't see very many movies.

the movie was "The Opposite of Sex" (featuring the really-really-wonderful and surprising-as-always Christina Ricci and Lisa Kudrow).

At one point, Lisa Kudrow (playing a spinster high skool teacher) has tracked down her former student (boy) to the hotel room he's sharing with another former student (girl). She tells him all about how sometimes "LOVE" just doesn't work out, and how you ought to be CAREFUL, and she KNOWS what she's talking about about, Etcetera ad infinitum.....and he interrupts her, as he sits on the edge of the cheap motel bed, to ask

"How in the world did you become so....CYNICAL?".....

....and she pauses a moment before responding "...oh?...observation".

then?..she spreads her legs wide, plants her hands on her hips, and she declares "WELCOME TO THE PLANET MATURIA! !!!! WE HAVE MANY THINGS WE CAN TEACH YOU!!!!!!".

Well, your comment about "judgement" versus "observation" reminded me of that very funny and very smart scene from a movie.

Sincerely,

David Terry

Thea said...

i'm one of those people who does not have an overwhelming desire to visit India (although i would love to see the Taj Mahal, like everyone else in the universe, i suppose) but thank you so much for sharing your vivid and honest travelogue and pictures. You are not only a great writer but an excellent photographer. welcome home!

Barry Parker said...

Be prepared to dream about India every night for many months to come.

Lori said...

Dominique, I have enjoyed traveling vicariously through India with you...thanks for the lovely photos and prose. I had an interesting laundry experience when in an ancient water village a couple of hours from Shanghai three years ago.

While on a gondola ride through the waterways of the beautiful village of Xitang, I marvelled at the women washing their clothes in the murky, brackish water. I was absorbed in this process that had obviously been employed for centuries...each woman washed her laundry with such a methodical, almost trance-like approach. Observing this put me in a similar state.

My Blackberry went off at one point, bringing me back to the boat. There was a note from my 14-year-old daughter. "Mom," she wrote, "How do I know which white clothes go in the delicate cycle and which go in the regular?" I was stunned at the irony; it made me laugh. I read the note to my traveling companions who also got a kick out of it.

Two things struck me: if these villagers had any white clothes, surely they wouldn't be that way for long, not in this water. And the fact that my daughter could e-mail me when I was half-way around the world before she was about to use a machine to wash clothes just blew me away!

Anonymous said...

We lived in India as expats for three years. We remember the sights and sounds of India for many reasons, but in particular because our young daughter was very sick and hospitalized during much of our stay. I ran onto a website which I love.......it continues to tell the story about people in India, particularly Delhi. You might like it. http://www.thedelhiwalla.com/feed/.

Layanee said...

Wash day in December, when I was there, was interesting as the river was so very low and right upstream the burning/burial piers were very busy. I am still haunted by the poverty, the odors, and the color of life in India but, more importantly, thankful for this country.

karensandburg said...

google bokapahari and look at the images of people illegally working in the coal mines for $2-3/day. incredible series of photos - also striking are the women's clothes in sharp contrast to their surroundings -- an indescribable bleakness...

Linda-Sama said...

your last paragraph is the perfect explanation of why I love India.

I have just returned from my 5th trip and did not travel overseas until I was 51 when I traveled to India alone to study yoga. I have been returning yearly since 2005. Alone, for the most part.

India is like what Louis Armstrong said about jazz (paraphrased): if I have to explain, you wouldn't understand.

thank you!