The household rises at 4.30am. The eldest son unleashes the calves to suckle, ladies sprinkle water mixed with cow-dung in the front yard and decorate it with a fresh kolam [rangoli] made of rice flour. Babu milks the cows. In olden times, the old man would have slipped out of his bed for the fields to squat there and climb down the steps of his large well for a swim and a bath. Now he is being watched and prevented as sons fear he may slip and fall.
Wood fire roars in the thatched kitchen and an aroma of coffee fills the air. [90% of what is eaten -and they eat well- is grown by them.] Silently everyone washes up and gets ready for the day. Fresh flowers have been gathered and offered to the shrine for Gods and ancestors. Workers begin to arrive at 6.30am [‘On several days in these times it’s a no-show,’ bemoans Babu]
The old man always slept in a thatched shed across the road in front of the family house. he hated sleeping within four walls. He well concealed his disappointment in being evicted indoors, to make way for cots to be put in for Raju and me. The cots were simple tubing welded together. 3″ wide tape was woven tight to form the sleeping surface. On it went a reed mat and a pair pillows. The shed had dirt floor and open sides. It was also crowded with many other gear. It had no electric light, but enough came from across the main house barely 30′ away.
I must admit I was somewhat apprehensive of mosquitoes. The cattle shed was next door and there were many shrubs and trees all around. But I was assured there would be none. How delightfully true as it turned out! Between that and the total silence [-except when the trees rustled] gave me splendid 9 hours sleep every day. I have seldom slept better. Raju in the next bed always seconded my happiness with a steady, soft snore. The family invariably discussed the sounds of motorcycles and other traffic of the previous night, on the road about 100 yards away. But I heard nothing in my deep sleep.
By 6.30am I was away to the site for 12 hour long vigils. There were three days of break in the work for a weekend and the Tamil New Year day. Finally on April 20, 9 days after we began, the road formation was mostly over. About 80,000 cubic feet of rubble had been shifted in six days from four well-heads. There is some more work that needs to be done, like spreading softer gravely material over rocky parts, generally dressing up and cleaning up the path. But about 90% of the work has been done.
I’d like to revisit the environmental audit mentioned at the start of the article. We saw that of the 0.70 acres on which the road lies, 0.25 acres were once food growing. Here’s a re-look at the math, at the end of the whole exercise. I went around and estimated the land released at the four well-heads by the cleared rubble. It is easily over 0.30 acres – and, all of it close to water source and ideal for crop growing. So the pointReturn adventure hasn’t been too disruptive, after all.