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Wilbur Goes To Work: New, Very First-Class Video On Village Life

Wilbur Sargunaraj visits his father's village in India, where he gets a close shave, fails to climb a coconut tree and learns that he's not very good at doing laundry on a concrete slab.

Produced by Wilbur Sargunaraj for NPR, John W. Poole and Ben de la Cruz/NPR YouTube

Last week, Wilbur Sargunaraj took NPR by storm with not one, but two video premieres. The YouTube star was taking pump baths, drinking Goli soda and — to the dismay of some readers — dunking a chicken in water.

If you missed that wild ride, no worries. Wilbur is back!

In his latest video for NPR, Wilbur looks at the work people do in his father's home village. As usual with Wilbur videos, you'll see and hear a few things that will make you go "huh?"

So we asked Wilbur a few questions.

The woman with the jug of water on her head is a reminder that "in my village there is a big scarcity of water," Wilbur says. "In a lot of places, water still gets delivered and is stored in tanks. There's not running water." The woman may have been headed "to water the cow," Wilbur says. And yes, that was one heavy jug.

The beedi cigarettes in the video are "the poor man's cigarette," Wilbur says. They're rolled from tobacco leaves and are very cheap. You can buy a bunch of them for 5 or 10 rupees — not even a nickel. Making beedi cigarettes is a "cottage industry" in this village, Wilbur says. "I hear it's much stronger than a normal cigarette. I wouldn't know because I don't smoke." Maybe it's because there's no filter.

The wooden cart with the wooden wheels, pulled by a bullock, is called a matu vandee. Matu means cow. Vandee means vehicle. Nowadays, rubber tires are far more common than the old-school, wooden tires, which "are really bad for the cow" pulling the vehicle, he says sympathetically. But he wanted to feature the carts he remembers during his childhood, and he finally found one.

The woman washing clothes at the end is an orphan whom his parents raised. She is like his big sister; her name is Gnanam, which means "wisdom." She's doing the laundry in the village way: rub the clothes with soap, beat them on a concrete slab to pound the soap into the fabric, then pound them again in water. Wilbur tries the routine. "She told me at the end, 'Eh, OK, give it back to me. You're done,' " Wilbur says. "So my efforts were not very valiant."

A lot of village jobs involve agricultural work, with the "sun beating on your head," says Wilbur. Some people in the village "can't wait to move away to the city" in search of easier ways to earn a living, Wilbur says.

But some villagers have no desire to leave. The barber who gives Wilbur a shave "is just superthrilled with his work," Wilbur reports. And that kind of pride is part of the village work ethic: "Some people say, 'This is what I've been given. I need to be thankful.' " (Note: Sometimes the barber shaves men's armpits to keep cool. We are grateful that didn't happen on the day Wilbur visited.)

Oh, and you may have heard one sentence early in the video that totally didn't make sense: "The chicken is blowing." Wilbur was trying to think of the word to describe a chicken's crow and came up with "blow." Well, Little Jack Horner did it, Dizzy Gillespie did it, so why not a chicken?

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