It is always a pleasure to return to India. Each visit provides an opportunity to observe, reflect, accept. This trip is no different. My wife and I land in India after seventeen hours of flying, with the mind and body further numbed by a 10 ½ hours time difference. Jet-lagged, tired and unwashed after a full day’s travel it is almost a relief to step out of the cramped aircraft and spill into the arrival lounge like the baggage that is starting to arrive, tossed around on the carousels. All five senses seem to be under attack simultaneously as we try to find a spot to retrieve our bags and strain to identify our luggage while contending with the sounds, smells and crowds that have no regard for personal space. Finally, we emerge from the cool airport building and are blinded, quite literally, as the eyeglasses get fogged up by the hot, humid air. We wave away touts who swarm around like flies, offering taxi services and hotel accommodation.
The drive from the airport is interminable, made pleasant by the excited catch-up conversations with family who are there to receive us. It takes over an hour and a half to cover around 25 kilometers. Cars, motorcycles, scooters, cycles, buses and trucks fight for every inch of space with might having the right of way. “Metro” train tracks are being laid, flyovers are under construction and the already constricted roads are choked with debris and construction materials strewn everywhere. Pedestrians therefore have no option but to spill on to the road and nonchalantly pick their way around stalled vehicles whose drivers are impatiently stepping on the “horn” in lieu of the gas pedal. The four-lane road is halved, with two centre lanes blocked off by dividers to store miscellaneous equipment and huge coils of sariyas (extruded iron rods.) Enterprising young boys use this small pocket of available land as a micro-cricket field “floodlit” by street lamps and halogen lamps installed for construction activities. A typical example of jugaad (Indian styled innovation or “Indovation”)! The city looks much cleaner though, and it appears better civic sense is starting to take shape.
A few wonderful days are enjoyed with my family, although we miss the effervescent presence of our niece who is enjoying Big Apple with her sister. All too soon it is time to move on to our next destination. My wife’s mother is getting on in years (92) and this visit is intended to enjoy her company, recall past times and build new memories. She resides with my wife’s sister and her husband on a farm, away from the hubbub of a small city. Mahatma Gandhi had said, “India resides in its villages.” While the Indian villages today are very different from those in the Gandhian era, in many ways little has changed. The childlike innocence and warm hospitality of small-town and village-folk exemplifies the Indian adage of Atithi Devo Bhava (a guest is (like) a God.)
Early every morning we break fast with fresh figs, papaya, chiku and mausambis grown on the farm together with cantaloupe and watermelon from the local market. Two dozen or so hens provide a supply of fresh eggs, although my wife prefers freshly steamed idlis, uthapa, upama and steaming hot parathas with an assortment of homemade preserves and chutneys. Fresh white home churned butter is an added treat! As organically grown local fruits and vegetables taste so much better than the humongous-sized produce available in North American supermarkets, we choose to remain vegetarian in our food choices while in India. Various types of mango and guava trees were laden with fruit that will ripen over the next few weeks.
The internet connectivity is poor most days, so we talk and walk. The day begins with yoga in an annex specially built for meditation. A track laid around the fruit trees and vegetable patches provides us our own private walkway. Occasionally my brother in law drives us past villages and we climb up the local hill using a dirt track. We walk and chat, enjoying the panoramic view of green fields falling away from the rocky, forbidding mountain walls. Shale ground to a fine grey dust lies underfoot and it is amazing to see how human enterprise and hard work is transforming this arid, unfertile land into a growing agricultural and industrial area.
We intend to spend time with my mother in law. In the morning, she sits in her favourite chair on the lawn draped in a light shawl to ward off the early morning nip and enjoys her tea. Through the day we sit with her chatting about something or someone. Suddenly, she remembers a related event or relationship and speaking softly, joins in. We encourage her to speak louder and clearly as one would a child. It is precious to see her eyes light up or watch her break into a mischievous giggle even as she struggles with both her mind and the tongue to frame her speech. She reminisces about her birthplace Nawshera and drifts to talking about her great-grandchildren’s traits and favorite foods. Suddenly, she brings up memories of my own mother who passed away several years ago.
I am reminded of author Mitch Albom’s remark, “… But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins.”
This visit is helping me understand why we refer to our roots as “Mother Land” but for whom do our eyes well up, I wonder?