Today I head to India for two weeks, mainly to see my family who live in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is one of the most beautiful and magical parts of India – a rural calming world still deep in tradition and an almost mythical level of spirituality. A complete divergence from what you find in the buzzing cities of Delhi or Mumbai.
I wrote about my family and village when planning my pop up (read more here). It was hosting that event, cooking recipes that my dad had taught me and thinking about life in the village, that jolted me to book flights a few weeks later. I have visited twice before, once with my sister in 2011 to bury our dad’s ashes, then solo in 2012 for a one year on commemoration service. Both visits were emotional and intense, but I will always be drawn back as, for me, India is where my dad’s spirit is and despite only knowing this side of my family for a few years, I feel a bond closer to them than I thought possible.
The tradition and the culture can however, at times, be hard to get to grips with. I’ve been trying to explain to people over the previous weeks just how rural and remote the village is, and how their lives are a far cry from the Bollywood movies or Star TV soaps. Being constantly prodded, poked, fed, asked why I’m not married, asked how much I earn, fed a bit more, asked when I’ll have babies, is just the start of it (that’s typical of every Indian family!). It’s the talk of black magic, spells and being possessed by gods that takes it to the next level, but which strangely also helps me feel closer to my dad as these things all correspond with what he become more focussed on as his dementia developed, and which we probably didn’t fully realise were linked to a lot of his family’s spiritual beliefs.
At times it is hard to know where to draw the line in trying to explain that lifestyle and culture where I live is so different. A young unmarried woman living without any family in London? To them, it’s a world they are not even exposed to through the media, and the differences are too hard to comprehend. And given that we don’t speak the same language communication can be difficult at times.
But as I set off I am focussing on all the brilliant and beautiful things that lie ahead. Walking through peaceful mountains aware of my surroundings and the different intentions that these communities are built on. Hearing my uncle laugh the same cheeky laugh as my dad. Playing simple games with the children that light up their faces – without the need for toys, consoles or computers. Watching my family tend to the land, harvesting their own lentils and vegetables, milking their own cow, and having an appreciation of where everything has come from and the simplicity of living off your land. Enjoying the different dishes and curries that are presented to me, despite the fact that I’ll probably have to eat enough for four people and have to plead until they stop feeding me!
I am also going to try and learn their recipes and get more involved in the cooking. Last time I was there my uncle cooked me the most incredible curry, reminiscent of those my dad would make – I’ve never felt so emotional eating a meal! Usually my bhabhi and chachi potter away in the tiny kitchen at the back of the house all day long, which I’m rarely allowed in to. This time I want to persuade them to let me in, to watch, to learn. I want to come home being able to cook more genuine recipes from my father’s homeland. So hopefully, once I’m back I’ll be posting lots of photos and recipes for everyone else to enjoy!
But until then I’m off to feast on breakfasts of aloo parathas and Maggi’s noodles, bread pakora for elevenses, fresh fruit from the garden, multitudes of curries and chapatis throughout the day (but hopefully not too many gulab jamun..). All hopefully washed down with some sickly sweet Thums Up!