7 August 2008

Letter 2.60

Mountain villages, unlike plains villages, are spread out with fields between the houses, so there are no houses 'next door' -- the nearest is several fields away, and not on the same level either. Plains villages, on the other hand, often have the narrowest passages between houses, and sometimes share common walls like apartment buildings. (The plains villages are also sometimes enclosed by defense walls.) In Ceylon the opposite pattern is found: in the plains the houses are spread out with fields between them (Ceylon never had the invasions, etc., that require defensive village works), but in the hills the villages are built by the tea estate owners for the tea pickers, and are as close as possible to each other to allow for more tea bushes. (No tea is grown in Kumaon, which is the dry side of the Himalayas, but Darjeeling tea is highly valued.)

You'll notice that refugee relief taxes now apply to postage, as well as a lot of other things. When I was in Delhi recently there were several mock air raids -- mock in every sense, since they were looked upon generally as a nuisance to be cooperated with as little as possible. The Delhi papers are full of Bangladesh Freedom Fighter Victory Reports -- which have an air of vague plausibility and cars have bumper and windshield stickers: LIBERATE BANGLADESH; PUNISH YAHYA; CRUSH PAKISTAN. The only concern we have in Almora is that if a war does start (no one really knows if it will) they may try to evacuate us, since we're close to restricted border territory, as I'm told happened in '65, when they got everyone into evacuation centers ready to ship them out of the country, but the war ended before anyone got sent out (as it almost certainly would again), and so everyone was released again. War in these parts has something to be said for it. My only brush with belligerents so far was in Delhi: a troop of Hari Krishna freaks from California besieged the city, trying to convert the blasé Indians to the True Faith -- talk about selling ice-boxes to the Eskimos! -- I was first mistaken for one (a Krishna freak not an Eskimo), then spiritually propositioned by one (a Krishna Eskimo for all I know) -- and would have -- preferred, I think, a Moslem invasion by the Pakistan Army.

Far from that madness, the fields are green with winter wheat. The cherry trees are in blossom (yes, I know it's late November; nevertheless the cherry trees are in blossom); leaves glisten in the bright sunlight, which each morning illuminates the dew gathered in thousands of spider webs. The nine forests waver green and silver through wafting fog.

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