100 Days in India Project

Three children wearing backpacks walking to school alongside a very busy road near Pushkar in India

35/ 100 Pea Shoots

I think there are two particularly interesting things in this photograph, taken early in the morning in the dry and dusty Thar desert near Pushkar.

The very young children with their giant rucksacks are walking to school along the main NH58 trunk road from Ajmer. In Pushkar this was perfectly normal and literally hundreds of children were walking along the very busy and typically chaotic road with them. These children were most definitely not going to the Lawrence and Mayo Public school advertised on the hoarding in front of them. Those students had very fancy, and out of place, Mercedes minibuses to drive them to school. I guess if the public school can keep their students safe from the water trucks and taxis, driven by men kept alert by their morning sachet of betel paan, they can make more money from tuition fees in the future.

The other interesting thing in this photograph are the large piles of pea shoots. Indians seem to eat a lot of peas and, unlike here in the west (except maybe in Waitrose), you usually buy them in their pods and shell them yourself. From what we saw, shelling peas seemed to take up most of the day for anyone with a house of hungry mouths to feed. Everywhere we walked there would be folk squatting on their step behind one of the lurid-coloured plastic bowls that are so common in India, tirelessly prising the little fresh peas from their shells.

In the morning you would see these huge carts, drawn by both human and beast, loaded with entire pea plants cut hours before from the fields nearby. People then dive in to separate the pods from the stalks to sell in the market. So what do you do with the mountain of left-over stalks? The solution is ingenious.

This road was lined with ladies, each with a pile of pea plant waste in front of them and a bunch of cattle behind them. Because cows are sacred in India you can cash in if you’re savvy enough. Folk drive along the busy road and stop by one of the heaps of greenery. How you could decide which one to stop at always perplexed me. These folk would then buy some armfuls of green shoots for a few rupees before feeding them to the cows whilst praying. The shoots get recycled, the ladies get some cash, the cows get fed and the public get to think that they have appeased one of the many hundreds of Hindu Gods.