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Of course the larger Indian society had heard of the siphon, but my tiny obscure village was so insular and bound by tradition, that that little bit of technology had never penetrated. My village friends were just as smart, just as hard-working, just as willing to learn as any other group of people; their world was simply an island in a sea of rice paddies and clumps of trees. The farthest any of them had been was to the next village, one set of rice fields over.

My little village, in fact, had never been touched by the nearly ubiquitous British bureaucracy, never been recorded in the mile-high dusty ledgers of the civil servants, all in uniform khakis. I found it by accident, when I waded across a little river and was welcomed by the village headman.

This little village had no electricity, no telephone, no postal service, no school. They had never heard of the British. They did not know what that thing high in the air was, flying higher than any bird. I tried to explain that I had come across oceans, halfway around the earth, but those concepts were beyond their ken. I finally settled on being from New Delhi, of which they had heard some word, and they perceived me as a light-skinned Indian from that place.

Another weird phenomenon: They were not used to symbolic representations of real life. I had some very realistic puppets made for me by a puppeteer friend in America, and I tried to use them in a little show to teach some of the principles I was using in gardening and early child care. The villagers were polite, but puzzled.

I tried drawing pictures. No comprehension. Still unsuccessful, I resorted to using cooperative children in little one-act plays, and they were a roaring success. Real people in real situations they understood, and the children had a great time playing grown up. One boy did a really funny imitation of the village leader, gestures and all.

I know it's hard to believe, but such places existed right to the end of the 20th century. I suppose by now they have all been absorbed into the larger community, but I wouldn't count on it.

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