I signed up to volunteer a month at the Marwari stables. There are several employees here (all young guys), and one other volunteer (Annick, from Switzerland).
She and I spend most of each day at the stables, helping out with chores. The work schedule and attitude is not like I am used to experiencing at any employer back in the States. Here, life moves at a different pace, and so does work. We start out early, while the temperatures are cool. Work for perhaps 45 minutes, then take a (rather long) break for masala chai. Work another 45 minutes, take another chai break.
My morning chores are primarily watering the horses. The water troughs have no drains, and certainly no spigots, so everything must be done by hand. It’s a lot of work carrying buckets of water here and there, first to empty the troughs, and then to fill them back up.
The hay – which is dried peanut plants –must be sifted for dust and bagged by hand before carrying the sacks to the horses. When the morning chores are done, I am ready for lunch and a nap. Happily, with a three hour lunch break, there is plenty of time for both!
Once the hay is distributed, the horses that have been turned out all race back to their stalls to eat, which is quite a beautiful sight.
Afternoons involve refilling the water troughs (they are not big enough to hold water for a horse’s full day consumption), and feeding barley mush. And more chai breaks, of course. One can never drink too much masala chai!
My other task for the last few days was caring for an orphan kitten. I taught her to drink from a baby bottle, and then taught the stable manager how to continue taking care of her after I left. Cats are not commonly kept as pets here, so we named her Lakshmi (a Hindu goddess) on the advice of a friend of Bonnie, hoping that the auspicious name will motivate the guys to take good care of her.
Sometimes during breaks, the stable boys will turn on the television and channel surf. I really enjoy watching Hindi TV, even though I understand very little of what they are saying. Dance scenes are my favorite, always done in exuberant Bollywood style. The most amusing thing I have seen on the telly was during a news show. For their top 10 international news stories, they had important news such as world leaders meeting, military conflicts, etc. But the top story, and the only story involving the U.S., was coverage of a sandcastle building contest in California.
I have been making an effort to learn Hindi since I arrived here. Until this point, I have learned a few words, but have not really needed to know it. However, most of the guys at the stable do not speak much English, and so I am trying to learn key words so I can talk with them more effectively. Also, I am finally learning the Hindi alphabet, which I have completely ignored studying previously. The horses’ stalls are labelled with their names in Hindi characters, and it quickly became apparent that I needed to be able to read the signs in order to follow directions (like “feed this to Bina” – and without being able to describe her color or other defining traits to me in English). I can now read enough characters that I can pick out which name is which, even if I cannot read the whole thing. It is also important to understand “chai pilo!” so I know when its tea time again.
Apart from teaching us Hindi, the staff has been enjoying sharing some of their culture with us volunteers. One of them brought his wedding album to show us, and we spent hours talking about all sorts of things. The last day that Annick and I were here, we all cooked lunch together. The guys cooked aloo and raita, and we made a European-type dish with a tomato sauce (though it is very challenging to cook western food in an eastern kitchen, because the ingredients are not all available). Then the guys taught us how to make chapatti (flat bread).
We were also given a demonstration of the sport of Tent Pegging. This is very popular for Indian horsemen, and Bonnie competes internationally with his Marwaris. Basically, it is a test of coordination. The rider gallops down the field while holding a spear, with which he has to pick up a small peg that has been set in the ground. The more advanced the competition, the smaller the peg. It is said to have evolved from desert warfare, when riders would gallop into their enemy’s camp and spear the tent pegs, causing the tents to collapse on the people inside.
During my numerous breaks from work, apart from drinking chai and learning Hindi, I love watching the horses and visiting the friendliest of them…
Jadhu (which means Magic) is my absolute favorite. He is about a year old, and super friendly. He has the most remarkable coloration and big blue eyes.
Hagriv is a tall gray stallion who is quite a character. He is very friendly, and his funniest quirk is that he likes to lick everyone. Feeding and watering him can get a bit slobbery, though.
Raj Rahim is a beautiful chestnut stallion who is so sweet and gentle. Marwaris are known for their silky coats, and Raj’s hair is especially soft.
Puja (meaning Prayer) is a gentle “ableck” (pinto color) mare who is a joy to ride.
Shanti is about 28 years old (ancient for a horse). She is probably the most famous of all the horses here. She was the horse that inspired the breed preservation efforts nearly 20 years ago.
Tahlula is another well-known horse. She is all black in color, which is considered in this culture to be unlucky. She was purchased by Dundlod when she was seen at a distance at a horse fair but disappeared before anyone could buy her; it took six months of searching the state to find her again.
The baby (Hindi “bacha”; he has not yet been named) is about two months old and so cute. He is quite adventurous, often going far from his mother Hirani to socialize with other horses or just to explore.