I knew India would be a journey of discovery for me. I was so compelled to explore this exotic land and reflecting back now, I know that I’m still not done with the country. This trip largely came from my need to know what my mother left behind and why. I also wanted to see the world famous landmarks that have swum around in my mind for years.
I won’t do my mother a disservice and talk about her past without her approval but the one thing I will say is that now I know why she wanted to leave. Please don’t read too much into that and surmise that I didn’t like my experience, to the contrary, I loved it. It’s just that knowing my Mum and what she likes/doesn’t like – I now feel like I have been able to see why she chose to come to the West.
India tests you. It forces you to confront yourself and make choices about who you want to be. In the face of so much poverty, it’s the small gestures of generosity that struck me the most. This resonated with my Mum who is the most altruistic person I have ever known. Every molecule in her heart is generous. I hope I’ve always lived my life with this value and being in India, I realised just how important a quality it is.
We were on a train, a long hot journey sprawled out ahead of us. We hadn’t had time to get any supplies and this train wasn’t stopping for hours. A family, poor and speaking no English drew out their food for the evening. Before we had a chance to stop them, they insisted we join in. Chapatti after chapatti and moorish dish after dish appeared. We didn’t want to take food from a family and from the wife who had clearly spent an age preparing it. Her eyes, however, glowed with pride. She wouldn’t eat until we had finished – it’s these small acts of kindness…
I wanted to love India. My mother raised me as an Indian. In many ways she is not a modern Indian though, she is still very traditional. Certain values gained from a life up to her 20’s in her mother country stuck with her. The most profound value is family. Family is the key to everything. My mother has always been 100% selfless when it comes to her children. When things have gone wrong in our family she always feels like the world is ending. It’s hard for her to realise that sometimes things don’t always go to plan.
She wants all her children to be doctors or investment bankers. She has worked in the graphic design side of Investment banks since coming to the country and she saw the graduates come in and make millions before retiring at 35. I don’t blame her for wanting that for us. Sadly, I was born with no mathematical brain whatsoever. I was born with the desire to devour and wax lyrical about books. Not the path my mother had expected but actually we are more alike than we realise. She often recounts the numerous times she was caught by the nuns in her strict convent school reading a book by candlelight in the toilets. She couldn’t put the book down and would be scolded for it.
The other thing that struck me is cleanliness. My Mum can’t bear the thought or sight of sh*t. It terrifies her. When our Dad used to throw us in a field and tell us germs were good for us, they toughened us up – my Mum would be wincing on the sidelines, itching to wash our feet before stepping into the house. India it has to be said, has a world of sh*t. Even in the modern metropolis of Mumbai, cleanliness is a big factor. Till today my Mum will warn you about a dog turd she spotted 17 miles away from where you are currently situated.
Over the years Mum has retreated back to the good old days. She is totally obsessed with Hindi soap operas and even though I can only understand a tiny shred, I loved watching them with her. Seeing how enthralled she was with the ridiculous storylines was quite entertaining. I wish with all my heart she’d realised that teaching me Hindi would be so valuable for my future. It would have made this trip a lot easier. All she had to do was only speak to me in Hindi and my Dad would speak to me in English and hey presto I would be bi-lingual. Not only would this have helped me in India, it would have made me pick up other languages much easier. It’s not too late though and I am determined to learn as much as I can in this life. I suppose another reason why she never taught me was because in her home in India with my Nanu –they conversed in English. Mum however has a very beautiful Hindi accent and impressive command of the language. When we went to India together people would always complement her on her lovely voice.
Despite my learning to cook new dishes with Jitu back in Bundi, I can still safely say that I prefer my Mum’s curry! There’s something about Mummy’s cooking that just can’t be replaced. My Aunty Adeline’s vindaloo was the best I had anywhere, even in Goa where it originated from. Roscoe and I agreed that we preferred the hot food of the South to that of the North. Unfortunately we dined in one too many places which ended up catering for an English palate even though we encouraged them not to.
Will I go again?
India had its highlights, the vibrancy of Mumbai and following the Shantaram trail, the lush tropical landscape of Goa, the steeped-in-history Jodhpur, the romance of Udaipur, even breaking my arse on a camel in Jaisalmer but it had its lows too. We both never got completely used to the constant stares, the pushy sales people, the flippant attitude to rubbish and its disfiguring presence even at the most holiest of sites. I was impressed with the signs on the rickshaws in Mumbai that advertised the need to stop spitting everywhere. Whether it’s the horrible scarring red paan and tobacco juice or just generally spitting –these signs explained that it can spread TB and damages the city. The rest of the country needs to take note.
My next trip to this epic country will either be to the mystical North, places like Rishikesh and Meghalaya. Another trip will have to be to the holy city of Varanasi. And yet another will be exploring the tropics in Kerala and feasting on wildly exciting seafood on the beach. I wonder whether my Mum would like to join me on one of these trips? I would love it.