Wednesday, 30 March 2016

And a roof succumbs to the march of modernity.

We lived in a beautiful thatched house, for 15 years, thatched with bodha  (Cymbopogon nardusgrass from the forest When freshly thatched it was a golden hue, and the home would be drenched with the small of lemon grasss. It was cool in summers, and warm in wintes, and to sleep under a roof made of bamboo, palmyra fibres and bodha would bless the sleep.
It did mean work. When rats would burrow into the thatch, it would leak during rains. This would happen every raintime , and we would put mud pots under each leaky point to protect the mud floor. If the termites built a small hill over the gap between the wall and the roof the thatch would get eaten away. Daily alerness was needed.
So in the raintime we would go to Jalabba in Bandakadapalle, who would say 'Potha undu. Vasthaanu' ('Keep going, I will come'). And we would wait, and he would never come as he would have had other plans, maybe labour in some field, or maybe a temple visit. This would be the routine every morning for a week, and then finally one day he would descend with his thatching equipment. We would have already carried down sugarcane leaf for the repairs from some field where sugarcane would have been harvested.. Everything did take time, but this was time spent in establishing a community, and relationships, and livlihoods. And it was an integral part of living in a village.
But slowly, everyone in this village, and every other village bought the dream of upmarket cement homes, the one-roomed boxes as per government Aawas Yojana schemes. The thatcher was not in demand any more, and he took more to drink. He grew older, and his son refused the profession. A skill quietly dies. A sustainable skill.
When we need to rethatch last year our neighbours advised against it. Lakshmamma was clear. She said, 'If the skill is not there, the bodha will slide down, and the roof will not last.'. She was right. 
In earlier times, they used to say that a bodha roof would last 30 years. When we thatched first 16 years ago, it lasted 10 years. The re-thatching lasted 5 years. After much agonizing we decided it. The cost of cutting and getting bodha from the forest was huge. Our house has a big roof. And with present wage rates as decided by NREGA the whole cost of reroofing could be 50,000 to 1 lakh. We could not afford that for a possible time period of 2-3 years.
Now we have succumbed to the march of modernity, and we have a metal sheet for a roof. The beauty is lost. The home is hot in summers, and we go and sit under the tree outside. And when it rains the raindrops thunder on the roof. That is modernity. Still its home. And its beautiful. As is our village also.

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