In the closing month of 2017 I travelled to India for the third time in my life. My grandparents are from there, and both my parents were born there, although only one stayed. The last time I went there was ten years ago, when I was eleven years old. I was still a child. For years I was too nervous to go again, because I was scared of some people and The Things They Thought. I was also scared of dealing with marriage proposals, which is an inevitable consequence of being a young, single woman. However when the time came to book the tickets, I did not protest or even wrestle with the decision. I knew it was the right time to go.
The first day in India occured in shifts between sleep and wakefulness. I was exhausted after an uncomfortable 2 hour flight from Dubai, and with a 5 hour drive ahead, I planned to sleep in the car. Things did not go according to plan, because as soon as we exited the aiport parking into the indigo dawn hanging over Mumbai, I had an urge to look at absolutely everything. Suddenly I was no longer tired, instead I was filled with an adrenaline that made me absorb the country with every sense available to me. I felt a sense of duty to my late Nana-baji (maternal grandfather) to truly appreciate the country he loved so dearly, for who knows if and when I’ll be able to visit again?
The trip was the most fun I’d had in a while, and going there after such a long gap, the gap between childhood and adulthood, helped me think about a lot of New Things. Since part of Indian culture includes shamelessly staring at people, it is a great place for observation. When I got back and my older sister asked to see the photos I took, she was annoyed at my strange choices. She’s right – I take photos of things that family are not really interested in seeing. I take photos of things that trigger memories of a place or a moment.
I am glad I went at this time, because of the person that I am right now, with my interest in poetry, history, art and culture. I was able to see things through my “Poetic Spectacles”, like when I went to the house of a man who swore a lot, and he had three clocks in the same room but each showed a different time.
I enjoyed travelling around my ancestral town with my mum and uncle, because they would tell me about significant places in our family history, like the Mindhola Nadi, a river where my grandmother used to go with her friends to wash clothes. My mum told me it was a social outing, washing clothes at the river. Women used to take a packed lunch and a bundle of laundry to the river in the morning and spend the best part of the day there, washing and drying clothes. This very same river also has a dark side to it. Every year, without fail, it took the life of one person who went to swim in it. Mum told me the story of one boy who went swimming with his friends in the Mindhola, and when his friends got out, he initially started to leave with them, but on a whim went back for one more dip. That is when he drowned.
I thought about how the mother of that boy might look upon the calm Mindhola as her son’s murderer, while others look upon it as a source of life. Perhaps that mother resented that she too relied on the killer river.
I made a promise to myself that no matter what people say, or what tedious issues occur, I would not let it diminish my love for this country. It is dear to my elders, and so it is dear to me. There is so much to love about it, and although I have not spent much of my life there, I have an unbreakable connection to it that, even now, I cannot fully explain.
I took the home of my ancestors into the palm of my hand and I’m not letting go. Unintentionally, I left a piece of my soul there (turned the country into one giant horcrux, uh oh) and I surprised myself. The amount of time I was there did not leave me satisfied, so I hope to visit again very soon, insha’Allah, before too many changes occur, and I am no longer the same person I was in December 2017.