Jane Wilson-Howarth

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Parenting in an idyll

Monday, 01 April 2019
We travelled back to Rajapur Island to where we lived as a family when the boys were small and it seemed like the perfect place to grow up. Alex had a host of playmates and the community was tight and caring so if ever I went out to find him, a neighbour would always know where he was and with whom. The sun was always shining and, being an alluvial island, there were sandbanks to romp in, goat kids to pet and plenty of trees to climb. We paused last week outside the house we had rented and a neighbour – carrying an enormous load of fodder slung from a headband – approached and asked after the boys. She pressed us to go in and greet the couple who had rented us our house, and indeed as we were being typically hesitantly British wondering if we should, the maths teacher came out and beckoned us inside.
He showed us into ‘our’ lounge (that’s how he described it) and bade us sit while he called his wife. We exchanged photos of our children and both gasped at how they had grown. Their son was in London. The now quite aged Brahmin couple didn’t know what he was doing there but kept in touch.
The conversation wandered on to our firstborn’s antics. The couple spoke of how our child-rearing style was so different to the way Nepalis raise their children.
They talked of how I let Alexander browse on the delicious mulberries that grew in our garden, not even supervising what he ate, not worrying that he might eat the wrong thing, not accepting that he might be competent to identify what he was eating, nor accepting that his local friends might guide him. I was apparently taking unacceptable risks. Alexander spent a lot of time with Tharu neighbours and I had the impression that the Brahmins didn’t think the Tharus were especially competent. Perhaps they felt that the Tharu kids themselves might not know what was and wasn’t safe to eat.
The couple also described an incident I either didn’t know about or had forgotten. A neighbour’s cow was giving birth and a local friend told Alexander who if course wanted to watch. This was also terribly dangerous as the cow might kick or trample people close by. It sounded like Alexander and his friend though were watching through a crack in the shed door so I can’t imagine he was in danger then either. Perhaps the real criticism was that he shouldn’t have been learning some of the facts of life at such a young age, but whatever the conclusion was that my parenting style was a lot freer than theirs. We were quite different in that.
Their welcome was warm though and it was lovely to see them again; they even hooked us up to their son in London who also talked to us very warmly and had no trouble recalling us and especially Simon’s work.
From the house we took a stroll down towards the river where traditional Tharu houses used to be decorated with relief designs in the wattle and daub – no longer, sadly – and on to the riverside where Alexander often romped. This spot is just across from the village of Suttee. Some years Rajapur reinforced their embankments and the river encroached on the Suttee side. Sometimes Suttee sent the river back to Rajapur but now there is a huge embankment to perhaps nearly 10 metres above normal river levels, and a little downstream a substantial concrete bridge. Before we had been poled across in a little ferry carved out of the trunk of a red silk-cotton tree.
Things are easier on the island these days, more schools seem to be functioning better and there is greater scope for selling rice and other agricultural goods beyond the island. And it is still as beautiful and lush as ever.

The first part of my notes on returning to Rajapur are in one of last month's posts: Return to Rajapur
 
Our kindly landlord / lady outside thier house on Rajapur Island
 
The massive embankment that now protects Rajapur bazaar from the Karnali River on the west of the island; the new bridge is also visible
 
The bridge over the Karnali River at Chisapaani - just north of Rajapur Island