Meet the In-Laws

It was time to get to know Jyothi’s family a bit after the previous days’ visits to Uncle’s coconut farm, cousin’s mango farm, and a tour de force around the temples. We had spent quite a bit of time with Jyothi’s cousin Maveen, who was a spot-on, superb tour guide and host. Tuesday we prepared to see Jyothi’s family home in the village of Malavilli.

We took the bus from Rajeev’s home to Malavilli where Sagar met us with his car to take us to their home. We visited a short time and toured the family garden, then Sagar escorted Rajeev, Greg, and Al to the family rice mill that he manages. Jyothi stayed behind to prepare the luncheon. Rice is one of the primary crops in Karnataka, and in India at-large. Rice is a primary part of the diet in Southern India, served at nearly every meal. At the mill, we removed our shoes as we would before entering a home or a holy place. At the entry, a small table held small jars of several different kinds of rice produced at the mill. Once inside we could see the raw grain filtering through one machine separating the grain from the husk. A second machine polished the grains of rice, and a third machine separated the whole grains from the smaller, broken grains that would be used for different dishes. Jyothi’s family has 40 acres of paddy that supply the mill, along with a number of other local farmers. The mill produces about 500 bags of rice a day, each weighing about 100 kilograms.

On the way back to the house Sagar took us to a remote, 1,100 year-old temple. It had suffered some pretty severe weathering, but the government had begun investing in restoration.

At the house we sat down for lunch. Jyothi and Sagar served the three of us. Eventually, Jyothi sat down with us, though Sagar disappeared for his meal. Meal time has been unlike family meals we are accustomed to in the U.S. We are served, as if by waiters, by family members who we otherwise do not see during the meal. So Auntie, and Jyothi and Sagar’s mother, we only met in the kitchen. We only met their father and Uncle outside the dining room. This was the same as meal time at Uncle’s coconut farm.

After lunch was cleared from the table, Sagar took us (including Jyothi this time) out on a drive through a lush tour of the countryside that skirted the Cauvery River. We eventually came to a tiny village along the river, where Sagar paid to park. We were greeted by monkeys who were scavenging the trash left on the side of the dirt road. It was a busy roadside stream, with people tending to their business in the village, and a number of groups of women busy in the river washing the household laundry and bathing. A group of men sat nearby, apparently shooting the breeze. There were as many cows as there were people busy along the banks. And of course, you put three men along side a river bank, and a friendly rock skipping contest spontaneously started with Rajeev, Greg, and Sagar.

We took in the sights of this part of the sacred Cauvery River that irrigates and powers much of Southern India, and backtracked to a much quieter area along the river. We parked along a strip of road occupied only by trees and monkeys, and trekked down the hillside to the bank. It was evident people had been to this spot, but no others joined us today. We left our shoes along the bank. The soil was very course, and red, from the marble stone of the bank. We walked over the sharp stone, over where it smoothed from the rising tide of the rainy season, and found a spot on a large, flattened rock to soak our toes. The rain-fed, tropical stream was so warm, unlike any of the snow-fed streams in Oregon. The quiet solitude was wonderful. A few more rock skips, and Sagar emerged as the champion! Points for distance, trajectory, and number of skips across a rough current still low in the season and broken up by islands of grasses.

We dried off in the sun and marched back up to the car, for another long, pleasant drive in the relatively unpopulated area. As we passed through a town Sagar leaned out the window to ask a question of a passersby and a response in some kilometers. We wound up a narrow road and came to a tiny village at the top. The streets were so narrow it was hard to believe a car of any size could fit through them at all. Past the village we continued to wind until we arrived at a colorful temple with the Nandi Bull posed at the top of a portico outside. The temple appeared to be deserted, but we could see the pooja had been performed earlier in the day as the statues were dressed with robes and flowers, and adorned with turmeric and sindoor.

Suddenly, the sky darkened, and we felt a drop of rain. Rajeev, Jyothi, Sagar, and Al all darted for cover under an eave as a shower erupted. Greg went running down the temple steps to collect our shoes that were sitting out in the rain. Everyone else had left their shoes safely in the car, out of the rain and away from the temptation of the local monkey population. As quickly as the rain started it stopped again. Before the rain could start one more time we were back in the car and heading back down the hill.

The hilltop view was incredible late in the afternoon after the cooling rain on the lush green hillside overlooking Malavilli. Sagar slowed down so Greg could take a photo in the hopes of capturing the breathtaking image. We started moving again, and we all heard the dreaded, flap-flap-flap of a flat tire. The sun sets quickly in Karnataka, so close to the equator, and there were no streetlight for miles. We were already at least a few kilometers downhill from the tiny village, yet no where near the next village at the bottom of the hill, and the sun was getting ready to say goodnight. There are worse places to change a tire. No actual hungry tigers, angry vipers, or upset elephants showed their faces. Of course, except for the flashlight from Greg’s cell phone it was pitch black before Sagar was finished, so we would not have seen anyway. They may well have been strolling through the nearby trees.

On the road again, we did not progress but a few meters and we could all hear something was wrong. Rajeev looked out the window as we moved slowly, but could not see anything obvious. We moved again, and something was still wrong. Out of the car, into the dark once again. Sagar removed the tire, did an inspection, compared with the other tires, everyone agreed, there were no obvious problems. Al had very much wished for a walk after lunch, but no one was very excited about the thought of walking all the way down the hill in the dark. Two Uncles arrived on a scooter, did an inspection, and agreed to follow us down the hill, very slowly. No sound of a problem, though in the village we stopped for air in the new tire, and we made it back to Malavilli in no time.

After dinner at the house, once again served by Jyothi and Sagar, we were delivered to a local guest house. Jyothi’s father had been concerned that their home did not have western-style toilet and bathroom facilities and made arrangements for what appeared to be the VIP lodging for official guests. We were lead up a grand, marble staircase (all staircases in modern homes seemed to be grand, marble and circular), to a suite that was about the size of the entire main floor of our home. We were breathtaken by the elaborately carved headboard and footboard of the bed, the leather furniture, the dressing room complete with a vanity, and the bathroom with both an electric and solar hot water heater. Moreover, we were blown away by the consideration and deference extended by the family.

It has truly been a privilege to experience Karnataka. We wanted to come to the wedding, and to Karnataka, as representatives of Rajeev’s Portland community, and to meet Jyothi and her family. We wanted her family to feel good about sending their daughter half a world away, and we wanted Rajeev’s family to see a little part of his other world through Portland eyes. But, once again, we received royal treatment as guests of honor. We will do our best to return the gesture back in Portland.

Epilogue: The guest house was so huge Al assumed there would be no hope of finding the light switch in the middle of the night, so we decided to leave the light in the dressing room on for the night. Unbeknownst to us there was an open window into the dressing room. In the morning it was filled with hundreds of bugs! There was no broom or we would have swept it clean.

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