Arrived as a Guest; Left as Family

9 Dec

Preparing the curry for the feast

On Sunday, my last day in Delhi, Kanika’s family and I woke up early to head to her father’s village.  When Kanika’s grandfather died last year, he asked his son, Kanika’s dad, to fulfill his wish of hosting a feast for the village.  “You’re going to see how we feed 6,000 people,” Kanika’s dad said as we rode to the village–about an hour outside of Delhi–where he was born and raised.

It was a chilly morning, and the sun had just begun to shine.  The village was quiet; the streets nearly empty except for a few laborers and cows.  We walked into Kanika’s grandmother’s house, where I was introduced to the family.  Her grandmother was the tiniest, sweetest lady.  We talked for a while…Well, the family talked, and Kanika translated for me when it was important.  I didn’t even care that I most of the time I didn’t know what they were talking about; I just enjoyed being around the family.

After a while, Kanika’s grandmother started to tear up.  “She’s sad that not all of the family is here today,” Kanika

Kanika & her grandmother

explained, “and she doesn’t know if she’ll still be around the next time we’re all together.”  Then I got sad.  I was sad for her grandmother and also sad that I wasn’t home with my family.  Thanksgiving had just passed, and I was homesick.  I thought about my grandmother and how every time I call her, she asks me if I’m coming home.  To make matters worse, when old people cry, I cry.  Hell, when old people dance, I cry.  When old people hold hands, I cry.  So, I made myself cough, took a deep breath, and kept myself from being an emotional basket case.

Kanika's grandfather

Around mid-morning, Kanika’s dad and his brother began preparing for a ceremony in remembrance of their father.  A photograph of Kanika’s grandfather was placed on a table outside the house, and strings of flowers were wrapped around it.  A man came over and began to build a fire that would burn all day in to honor Kanika’s grandfather.  When the fire was going, all of the brothers gathered around and so did other family members and men from the village.  They began saying Hindu prayers, chanting, and throwing things into the fire to keep it burning.

The women came out of the house and sat down in the entryway to watch the ceremony.  Then everyone in attendance took turns going to her grandfather’s picture and paying their respects.  When everyone finished, the fire kept burning, and the cooks and servers began setting up the food around the Ganesha statue placed in the middle of a huge tent.

Women sat on one side of the tent, men on the other.  We sat down and the food was brought to us–a lentil curry and a chickpea curry, along with puri (fried bread) and halwa.  After I ate half a dozen pieces of fried bread and curry, I was done.  Kanika and I vegged out on chairs set up around her grandmother’s house.

1:30 p.m.  I had to leave.  Kanika’s driver was going to take her grandfather home (her mom’s father) and then drop me off at the airport in Delhi.  Before I said my goodbyes, Kanika’s aunt pulled me aside and handed me money.   Her grandmother did the same when I said goodbye to her.  “They always give the children gifts,” Kanika’s mom explained.  “You’re Kanika’s friend and Kanika is like a daughter, so you’re a daughter too.”  I was beyond touched.  I had only met them that morning, and they already  had claimed me as one of their own.  Even Kanika’s dad began calling me his second daughter on Day 1 of meeting up with them in Delhi.

I didn’t want to go.  The sky was clear, the sun brighter, and the air warmer.  I said goodbye to Kanika’s dad first, who was busy attending to hundreds of guests that had arrived, and I began to choke up.  I knew I would be sad to leave, but I wasn’t expecting to get super emotional.  Kanika, her mom, and her brother walked me to the car.  I thanked them for a wonderful week, gave them hugs, and then sobbed.  For half and hour of the drive, I just cried and cried and cried.  I missed her family already; I missed my family more.  And, a week later they would be going back to Houma together, and I would still be in India alone.

Prepping food for the feast

Ceremony around the fire

Ganesha & halwa

 

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2 Responses to “Arrived as a Guest; Left as Family”

  1. Jackie December 9, 2010 at 3:58 am #

    These are my favorite photos–and stories–so far! I know how emotional that ordeal must have been for you, but have no fear, your family will be with you soon enough! And at least you got to celebrate an “Indian Thanksgiving,” even if you were not able to be home to celebrate with your own family. I love you and miss you all the time!

  2. Mom December 9, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    Baby, I know you’ve been homesick and you needed that week to be around family so I’m glad you got that time. I’m grateful that Kanika and her family make you part of theirs for a week!

    Miss you lots and love you more!
    Mom

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