Thursday, October 28, 2010


"We met before, in another life," my host father tells me, a beedi smoking from his mouth. He stretches out his arms, both severed at the elbows from a farm accident.

"That's why you've come to my home, as a daughter."

It's been a week now, and I'm beginning to believe him. There was only one day of the awkward guest stage, and soon I had my hands busy in sweeping and cooking and sitting around with the host mother as she sold trinkets and snacks.

The family lives blocks from our slum community center in a government subsidized building. Uncle, Auntie and their son live in two rooms, one of which I have inhabited alongside a cumbersome washing machine and stored items.

Uncle wakes up first, at 5:30 am, and sweeps the house.

Auntie is up next, starting of the day with a few gali directed toward her sleeping son. She is paralyzed from the waist down due to a childhood accident, and uses a small platform on wheels to maneuver around the house.

I wake up to the sweeping and start boiling chai. A small yellow rug serves as my yoga mat and my meditation is somehow easier amidst the morning noise. I try to ignore the mice, and the water that seems to always be running.

My host father leaves for duty by 7:30, just as his teenage son, a volunteer at our community center, reluctantly wakes up and switches on a religious television show.

Uncle's livelihood involves cleaning the health department. Before that he used to drive a cycle rickshaw, and before that he collected trash. There is nothing in his manner or attitude that suggests disability. And because of this, I have honestly stopped noticing it too.

Auntie and I grill some bread for breakfast and eat as the morning store customers, mostly little kids who want gumballs before school, come to the door. In one day she collects about 300 Rupees, 200 of which goes to the next day's supplies.

In the colony, there is no time when people are not outside. They loiter until late hours in the night in the park, and wake up early to talk walks or meet with friends or greet the family members coming in from night duty.

My host mother screams at me as I do morning dishes, telling me to leave them and go to work. When I refuse, she relents and tells me stories of Haridwar, where she is from, and about living in a hut before the government gave them this home.

She tells me how she is ready to sell her home or take on another job or loan if her son needs more to pursue studying. She and uncle are clearly focused on his future, proudly displaying his certificates or awards on a shelf.

As I leave for work, she gives me a banana and a stern command to come home from lunch. "Don't work too hard," she says as I leave, smile, and hop over the cot full of candy and red painted diyas for Diwali.


ellie said...

it must be amazing to experience a whole other life in such a country. i hope things are going well for you, and this family you have the pleasure staying with (:

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KP said...

I am envious of your life. I wish you well. Your firm grasp of the English language as well as the human heart is mesmerizing. Please keep writing...I'm living vicariously. I want to visit you.