Yesterday, I spent a lot of time trying to do very many things simultaneously, feeling exhausted towards the end of it. By nightfall, I was trying to visualise the life of a multitasker and wondered what productivity meant for them. Playing around with my random disconnected thoughts, I found myself somewhere in Spiti. And how the women I met there redefined multitasking and physical efficiency for me.

Monotonous field work for hours.
Monotonous field work for hours.

In 2013, somewhere in the highlands of Langza I met Kishen. She is a year older than me, a mother of two, lives with her husband and her parents-in-law. I was a guest at her homestay during my two night stay in the village. No sooner I reached Langza, than she received and showed me around the house. We rushed to the fields in no time (since they were harvesting green peas) and that is where I met the other members of her family. We all continued working there for a few hours, till Kishen said it was time to head back to the house for lunch. While I followed her sluggishly climbing the steep slopes, she took big leaps with a full sack fastened on her back. I stopped, stared at her sprint across the terrain and reach home.

Lunch was cooked in no time, she fed the children and it was field work again for the next few hours.

Kishen with her husband, Yeshe and her parents-in-law.
Kishen with her husband, Yeshe and her parents-in-law.

Once the sacks of green peas were sealed and sent off in the trucks (for further transport), Kishen going beyond steep slopes, gasped telling me that it was time for the domestic animals to be brought back home. Panting, I took my time and tried a very unsuccessful hand at shepherding. In a few minutes, the entire family was back from the fields and we started preparing for dinner.

Through the family dinner, I remember Kishen taking frequent breaks to fetch something from the kitchen or manage the children or serve either of the senior family members. The following day, I realised she was the first one to wake up at home and set pace and make preparations for everyone else in the house.

Kishen making pulao for lunch.
Kishen making pulao for lunch.

The lives of Chhering in Komic and Sonam in Demul are similar.

I met these ladies in my consequent visits to the villages and sat in awe of the strenuous work that they do. In most societies, women are considered to be multitaskers because our brain can focus and execute more than one idea at a time, or so it is believed to be. But when I saw these women in Spiti, I was thrown away by the amount of physical work that they took up.

They spend endless hours in the field. City dwellers, let me assure you that that is not an easy task at all. Working at an altitude of 4300 meters, strong mountain sun haloing over the head and doing a monotonous task for 7 hours is not idyllic. Apart from this, there are the social responsibilities and the family commitments. If you put me in that situation, firstly, I am a monotasker and secondly, even if I did manage to do all of this for a day, I would’ve found myself run away from my life the very next day. I’m sure they occasionally feel the need of an escape. It’s a human tendency, I told myself. But would they want it any other way?

A quick break. Tea was prepared and packed in the morning.
A quick break. Tea was prepared and packed in the morning.

I asked Kishen what kept her going. Her answer was a clear, ‘this is my life’ with her eyes lit up and a big bright smile.

On the other hand, Sonam in Demul was visiting her parents’ home with her two kids. In my 3-day stay in Demul, I acquainted well with her and her mother. Her mother, I suppose in her late 40s, would hike up for hours and go across villages to gather grass as fodder and bring back home. She would depart from home a little after sunrise and would return only in the next 8-9 hours.

Sonam was responsible for the farms within the village. And even though these farms were hardly any distance away from home, the terrain and weather could play deterrent for someone as reluctant as me. Sitting amidst the fields, I often found myself question my efficiency and my dedication to the work. And when I asked Sonam if she ever got tired of this, since technically she was on a holiday to her parents’ home; she replies with an obvious answer that she couldn’t sit idle and this is what she had been doing forever.

An out of focussed photo with Kishen and her children. Photo courtesy: Sonali Gupta.
An out of focussed photo with Kishen and her children. Photo courtesy: Sonali Gupta.

I suppose each of our lives are different and we prioritise differently. I definitely know that these remarkable women have shown me the success journey of multitaskers, while pushing themselves every day in the tough lands of Spiti. And every time I feel physically incapable of pushing myself, I will recall Kishen’s ascent to her house.

Who inspires you to keep going?

Amrita Das

I have been a travel and culture independent journalist. My bylines have appeared in many publications worldwide including National Geographic Traveller India, Lonely Planet Magazine India, The Indian Express and World Travel Magazine. A fellow of Media Ambassadors India-Germany 2019 program by Robert Bosch Stiftung and Centre for Media Competence, University of Tübingen. Currently, I am the photo editor for RoundGlass Sustain, a wildlife and conservation e-publication. I live in India.

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29 thoughts on “The Women of Spiti”

  1. I loved the Pulao…and the local salt tea was amazing….just loved how she took care of everything and was always smiling

    1. Oh yes, it is a tough job to do it all. And tougher to do it all with a smile :)

  2. Loved it Amrita. The description of the daily life, & the pictures were splendid. Pls keep posting such articles. Would like to know more about the daily life of the locals & see them through your lenses.

  3. Loved reading the post…very inspiring article on spiti woman. Most of us staying in the city think that we multitask lot but it is nothing compared to what this women do….will be going back to spiti again this summer and will try to enrich myself more from their life that is something which I might have missed out last time.

    1. Agreed, Swati. Let me know how your Spiti re-visit turns out :)

  4. Lovely post, Amrita. Absolutely straight from the heart. And so true. We see other women working and realise just how easy our life is. and this is true everywhere, on the plains as much as in the mountains. And even in our day to day life, it is the woman who takes on most of the work and the responsibility, be it the home or children or social life. And it’s all worth it when it is understood and appreciated. It’s only when it’s taken for granted that it becomes a problem. But let me not get sidetracked. Loved the post.

    1. Yup, that is where the problem is. The more I travel, the more I realise it is only the women who do the work everywhere. And yet, they’re taken for granted. I suppose that is when it hurts as well. Thanks for the kind words, Anu :)

  5. Thank you for sharing your beautiful experiences. I haven’t seen this side of Spiti documented before in a way that you have!

  6. Amazing ladies. I guess one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that our parents and grandparents’ generations worked incredibly hard to give us the opportunities we have now, the luxury to even ponder such an idea of not carrying so many responsibilities. It seems a shame to waste this opportunity by not making the most of it, so that in itself is motivating.

    1. I agree. We while away too much on all that has been handed over to us. Your thoughts make me realise that I’m not doing much either. After all, there is just one life to love :)

  7. wonderful post, Amrita. Very commendable to write about the unseen force behind our homes and hearth.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Alka. There is so much perseverance to learn :)

  8. It will be a curse upon you to call you Lucky, you epitomise Human spirit, endeavour and survival instincts, no words tantamount to your realisation. You are the Modern Troubadour…

  9. Thanks for taking me back for a revisit to Spiti Amrita. The women there are amazing, and an excellent example of being as strong as a man, in every way.
    We city dwellers need reminders sometimes of what hard work really means. :)

    1. Truly, I agree. They redefined my definition of ‘hard work’ and how easy my life is. Commendable spirits :)

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