I chatted up an old lady sitting by the side of the road outside my hotel in the early morning hours in Jispa, a town in Himachal Pradesh on the way to Ladakh. She was busy knitting, with as calm and happy an expression as one could have in the beautiful setting of this town.
She was waiting to go to work – on a road building project of the Government. Probably a part of rural employment guarantee program introduced by the Congress led coalition in power in New Delhi at the time. One wondered how much of a contribution her ageing body would make. But she did make for a fine conversationalist, telling me a thing or two about life in Jispa.
While some villagers get to work as daily wage labour, like the old lady herself, the main occupation was agriculture in the summer months. The principal crop in Jispa is potatoes, sold mostly in the mandi or wholesale market, and peas which are sold locally. In the extremely harsh winters, when temperatures fall many degrees below zero, locals keep themselves busy knitting apparel and weaving carpets – but only for their own use, not to sell.
Surprisingly, all the children in the area go to school according to her. And teachers come too. She may not have been exaggerating. From the activity I saw in the school, it seemed to be running very efficiently. Mind you, this is a big deal in India where teachers are often absent leading to students staying away, aggravating the illiteracy problem even further. The school operates from 10 in the morning till four in the afternoon. And maintains its schedules in the winters too except when excessive snow makes movement impossible.
She was fine with having her photos taken. Before cheerfully going off with six young lady companions to build the road travellers like me drive on.