Featured image courtesy: Camaal Mustafa Sikan, Wikimedia Commons
Strangely, the most undesirable part of India because of the dust and heat hanging over Gujarat, holds my best memories. We visited distant relatives of my father-in-law fifteen kilometres from Jamnagar. The village was pronounced Jee-whupar, but for the life of me, I can’t find it on any map. I’m guessing it’s been swallowed up by Jamnagar, a city with dusty roads back then that I was anxious to leave.
We bused to our relatives and arrived at a scene that I’d imagined in every small village. A huge tree spread its shade over a sandy circular road while underneath, sat a few unemployed men smoking beedies. We asked where our relatives lived, and before they directed us one hundred metres down a dirt lane, one of the men asked the usual questions — Where are you from? Where are you going? With a plea to get him into our country.
We showed up at our relatives’ property unannounced, but in India, that was fine. The property was bordered by a high wall and contained three separate two-story apartments for each of the two brothers and their wives and the third for the patriarch. We entered the father’s house and before long a delicious meal was before us. We sat on the floor while the wife fanned the food. She didn’t eat with us — the custom being that a wife ate last. And while I didn’t feel comfortable with this, I was grateful for the fan, as the flies were as thick as leaves on a tree. They hovered over the scrumptious curry and I wouldn’t be surprised if I swallowed one or two.
My oldest daughter was three at the time, and it wasn’t long before she needed to go to the toilet. When we asked where the washroom was, we were told there wasn’t one and she could go on the balcony before us. This was a shock to me because our relatives owned a peanut farm and from the look of their premises, they didn’t lack money.
“Oh, we had a toilet,” explained the patriarch. When a distant family member was arriving from Tanzania, they had one installed. But after she left, they filled it in again.
In typical Indian hospitality, they wanted us to stay the night, but for me it was impossible without a bathroom. I refused to wait until after dark and carry a small pot of water to the edge of the village the way woman in the village had to.