Over the last few nights, lit by an obese moon, the local animals have been fighting; first the dogs went at it ferociously; then loud, wailing cats; hissing, crying, haunting sounds. Then a crazed bird-fight, filled with screeching – all this in the two nights of the moon’s fullest face.
The village is a breathing thing, a living ecosystem of many species of insects, reptiles, mammals and birds living adjacently. The village mood is governed communally, first by the most powerful forces of nature, primarily the sun and moon – and, here, the sea – and secondly, by humanity in concert with nature.
In working with nature, humanity is further subdivided, along a continuum from those who will care for animals and plants, to those who would not tolerate them, but as food. Most follow a gentle co-existence.
A properly functioning village can be considered among the most sane and balanced social ecosystems ever created by human beings. Interspecies tolerance, collegiality and an awareness of the fundamental interconnectedness among all living things exists.
Here, vegetarianism is considered a social enlightenment for most people. Trash is often laid out on low thistle or brush to allow ants and other insects to pick it clean. I have watched a village woman wash the anus of her cow with her bare hand and water with such care as she would give her own child.
The village is asleep shortly after sundown. It gets dark quickly. Public lighting is elegantly limited to one or two long, narrow, tube lights, atop wooden posts placed at the intersection of paths or at the gate of one of the wealthier homeowners. But power outages are common, eliminating even this small amount of soft, light pollution. The night sky is clear, the stars, sharp.
Dawn is the loudest time of day, from cock’s crow, through crow’s caw and eventually multiple, staticky, jam-boxes, and at least one television set, projecting bhajans and popular songs. This comes to an end abruptly, when there is a brief silence into which the cow next door lows – an enormous sound – at least once each morning. Today, all sound was overcome by a single, overpowering noise, a retort, by human design, repeated at regular intervals. Someone was lighting and dropping grenade-like bombas.
This same, single, very powerful firecracker, set off very near to this house every half hour or so, was irregular enough to feel sudden each time – 9:30, 9:55, 10:27. The noise hit me in the gut. The dog was terrified.
It is an intense sound in this place – and now the cat fight continues, screeching and hissing, tearing-around sounds between booms.
Bombas all day long: “someone died” is the best we have. Sekar says it was two people, one on either side of us, in recent days. The villagers gathered with firecrackers, drums and flags – multiple very loud retorts all day long; many right now.
The dog stayed under the bed for hours, until sundown when the bombas finally ceased – we all sat in silence. Then, through the night, under the flat, bright light of the fat waning moon – really three days full – came the horrible, sad, wailing of a woman who sounded like a widow, or a mother, begging God or anyone to explain “Why?” between heavy, interminable sobs. She finally fell asleep, but her cries were the loudest sound in the night for an hour. The death must have been literally just beyond the wall to our West.
The entire village is a part of the death – even the crows were vacated by the noise. They say that when a king dies, crows fly and caw – maybe it’s because of the fireworks. This full moon there was an important death, likely two, in our village. The crows and dogs and cats know it … and I know it, too.
4 January, 2007
Periyamudaliar Chavady, TN, India
[discovered that one of the two deaths was L’s grandmother – the mother of the man from whom I’ve been leasing a motorbike. We learned, too, that there was another death, just next door to us – very close to us, on the same day – likely someone we had seen daily in the last few months – but we don’t know whom. I would know the face … but which face, of the last few months, is missing now? that I cannot say. So it was Usha, the daughter- in-law of one of the deceased, who told us, three weeks after Pongal, that the villagers did not celebrate Pongal this year because of these deaths, a full moon before].