Ch. 14, A Stroll through Matiari
The contrast between the familiar and the exceptional was everywhere around me. A bullock cart was drawn up beside a modern sports car at a traffic signal. A man squatted to relieve himself behind the discreet shelter of a satellite dish. An electric forklift truck was being used to unload goods from an ancient wooden cart with wooden wheels. The impression was of a plodding indefatigable and distant past that had crashed intact through barriers of time into its own future. I liked it.”
― Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram
― Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram
The wake-up call comes extra-early as we will make our shore excursion before breakfast. Upstairs in the lounge, pastries and fruit, coffee and tea are set out for a snack before we board the country boat at 7 A.M. for the short trip to the river bank.
We will visit the village of Matiari, where more than half the residents are involved in a metal-working industry. This employment dates back more than a century when men from Matiari, working in the brass-works in Kolkata, grew too old to work, returned to their village, and taught the younger people.
This is our first walking tour through a rural village and for this reason, the opportunity to interact with the residents, Matiari becomes my favorite place on the tour.
As usual, fog/smog obscures the landscape but makes for a gorgeous sunrise on the Hooghli river.
The country boat delivers us to shore and we disembark onto a bamboo "pier."
|The bamboo pier.|
After a casual stroll through the town, we come to a very basic foundry where scrap brass is melted and rolled into rectangular plates and circle. I can’t believe my eyes when I see barefoot men shoving the scrap metal into a wood-fueled fire.
|Barefoot! Hot coals fall from the furnace when they push and pull the brass and fuel.|
|This machine presses the melted scrap into flat plates.|
|Out of the press.|
|The belt-driven press, driven by a very loud engine. There is no hearing protection anywhere, or any other kind of safety gear.|
|Two men operate the press.|
From the foundry, the plates are circulated to various craftsmen. Some shape the metal, others polish it, and others engrave it. The tools are basic, motors primitive, and everything is handmade.
|Tools of the trade.|
|This man is in a dim shed, shaping the pressed plates.|
|Note the shed at the right side.|
|This man is inside that shed, polishing the shaped brass.|
|The engraver, using small metal stamps.|
|A finished product,|
|Items for sale.|
|This man is shaping a bowl.|
|I think he is shaping a bowl, turning it with his feet after he hits a shaper with the hammer.|
We make a circle through town, nodding and waving at the residents who have come out to see the Westerners. We motion for permission to take their photos and then show them the results, which they enjoy.
I am approaching a small, one-story brick building on my right when I hear girlish squeals and giggles. Behind a barred window, one girl remains standing and watching us. Eventually the other girls stand and I get their photo and show it to them. I have great hopes for the girl brave enough to remain standing.
When I show the photo to the girls, I am able to see inside the very small dim room. A man, obviously the teacher, was smiling at the girls watching the foreigners. All were sitting on the dirt floor. Next to them were several boys, who remained seated.
|Wide load coming through.|
An elderly woman shakes her head when I ask permission, then changes her mind. Next to her, another woman motions enthusiastically for me to take her photo.
|At first, she said no. Then changed her mind. Note the dung patty behind her.|
|But right next to her, this lady waved me over to take her photo.|
As I near the river, a man and his son stand amid their flock. Then I take his kids’ photos. The man is delighted, but the kids aren’t sure about this white-skinned, blue-eyed stranger.
Another man calls for his wife to come out so she can see us pass. I take their photo and show the husband.
|Off to market.|
Back aboard the RV Ganges Voyager, we relinquish our shore shoes, slip into our clean boat shoes, and head to the dining room for breakfast. We will cruise upstream all day and again make a shore excursion before breakfast tomorrow.
|Breakfast: Bacon, scrambled eggs, a piece of apple and grapefruit, watermelon, and potato patties.|
More photos from my walk through the wonderful village of Matiari:
|I smelled the pungent odor of incense burning and tracked it to this bicycle cart. Asif said this is the owner's only way of making a living, and he is burning incense in its honor.|
|Note the white balcony on the second floor, then look underneath at the roundish white thing.|
|Now look at the brown thing under it for size perspective. That brown thing is a bee hive.|
|Mary had trouble walking any distance, so a grand carriage was arranged for her.|
|Dung mixed with coal dust for heating and cooking.|
|Dung patties drying on a brick wall.|
|This dung is molded around sticks to facilitate burning.|
|A dung wall.|
|The Nationalist party is in power in West Bengal.|
|Two boys off on a mission.|
|Two newborn goats.|
|Even the cows were curious.|
|This was a mutual scratching session.|
Back aboard the boat:
|Cleaned shore shoes delivered to our rooms.|
|Just taking it easy on the sun deck.|
|The bridge with the river pilot at left, Sumit the Ganges expert, and the Second Captain at the helm. The captain is behind Sumit.|
|A joy stick controls the boat.|
|Coconut curry soup.|
|Melon and papaya, chicken pumpkin salad, corn and peas, lamb stew with potato, "fish and chips."|
|A piece of bread.|
|Planting rice in the river shallows.|
|Dining room chair upholstery.|
|My shoes, cleaned and waiting for the next shore excursion.|