Wild date palms and cactus on those dry hills are standing against the boiling sun above. The rocky mud path coils around the valleys. Camels with load move on them occasionally. These are common scenes around Udaipur, the lake city of Rajasthan.
Both sides of Udaipur-Ahmmadabad highway are hill ranges. One of the main people on these hills are the Meena. Fifteen kilometers on the highway from the city, we turned into a mud path. Though a camel is better on the rocky village road, my guide’s Rajdoot motor bike seemed better to beat against the heat. Meenas like to stay scattered unlike the south Indian tribes who like to stay in clusters. Most of the hills have not more than two or three houses. Each of these houses will have a single room and a single entrance. Since there are no windows, door is the only source for light to creep in. It would be ideal in this place of extreme climates.
My friend had a hired hut in one of those hills. As we got inside and rested, I felt darkness was better. On the mid day, the comparatively low tiled roof was emitting heat. Most of the houses here have roof made of crude tiles. In summer when there is no agricultural activity, many of the men will be involved in making tiles. Hand-made clay tiles are baked in fire. Ladies will be killing time by making brooms and mats from palm branches. To beat boredom some will be distilling liquor. Country liquor made from the mova flower is the common and favorite hot drink in the season.
In summer, water is very scarce. Some places they even use sand to wash vessels! A few open and tube wells are found among some villages. We found an open well in Kodumudi village. It must be more than thirty feet deep. We had to wait for sometime to see someone coming to draw water. As a woman appeared, I was quick to white-balance my Palmcorder. The woman had a big pot with mud and charcoal paste around it to be washed off. Her head-covering had hid her face too. Through the black and white viewfinder I was watching her careful steps down to the bottom of the well through the crude steps projected from the wall. Washing the pot there and throwing the water a little far, she dipped the pot with a cloth on its mouth to filter! Now climbing up is not easier. These kinds of well may be used by several villagers. Water is precious in most places and fetching them is harder. Women walk quite a long away with several pots on head; this is a common scene in Rajasthan.
Lack of education, illiteracy and lack of access to proper facilities keep the Meena under the clutches of several sicknesses. Tuberculosis and death during delivery is common in the villages. As income and the agriculture are meager, many are pleased with their poverty. Though pastures are scanty, several of them are also involved in tending cattle, trying to make a living by the sale of milk products and the calves.
Meena tribe is believed to be a mixture of more than one tribe. It seems the fisher men community called Meenavar eventually became Meena, who are notoriously known as thieves and robbers. They do not intermarry with other tribes. The younger brother of a deceased can marry his widow. It is told that a married man have freedom and access on his older brother’s wife and wife’s younger sister. Drums and dances are usual in marriages and other festivals. It is said that in such occasions as the drum beats tightens, dresses loosens and the dance becoming indecent is not uncommon.
Dead are cremated. The corpse of men is wrapped in white cloth and the women in colored cloth. Raised platforms of rectangle shapes are raised as tomb at the grave behind the residence.
In the empty slopes of a hill among the cactus were found stones installed and wooden poles stood with flags. These are places of offerings and chants. Meena in Udaipur area, worship spirits and the chief among them is ‘Magarababji’. Meena believe in life after death and rebirth. Those who do well in this life are supposed to be born as stars in the next birth. Meenas are ruled by several such good and superstitious beliefs.
According to 2001 census, there are 3.8 million Meenas and most of them are in Rajasthan. They are known by the language they speak – Meena. There are not many serving among the Meena people to uplift from the superstitious beliefs and evil practices. Your prayers can make a difference to deliver them from the command of sinful life that they can shine as stars.
Text source: Copyright © Philipose Vaidyar. Used with permission.