Visiting with Ravi's family

Ravi's family

Meeting Ravi's Family

Ravi and his wife giving me a blessing

I arrived safely in Bangalore. You can imagine my surprise to see a driver with my name on the card that was not Ravi.  I asked how he got my name.  The hotel sent me ma'am I told him I needed to go outside and see if my other driver was waiting. I was completely relieved to see Ravi faithfully waiting to drive me to my hotel.  I apologized to the hotel driver for the mix up and told him I would not need his services this week.  

Ravi was smiling and I catch him taking my picture as I emerge from the airport.  Still smiling shyly, he shakes his head and tells me he was mad at himself for not taking pictures last time I was in India and he was not going to make that mistake again. His simple straight forward demeanor is like a soothing balm.  I was tired from my journey and I felt safe as he escorted me to his immaculately clean car.  He is a very cautious, confident driver, which is a bit unusual in India. I feel my senses heighten and again I am in complete recognition that my reality has changed.  I intentionally distracted my uneasy thoughts and I ask him “what's new”?  He immediately started to tell me about corrupt politicians and that the rainy season ended just this day and all of the rest of the news going on locally.  “Ah, the literal answer to my question.” I chastise myself for asking such generalized American questions. It is such a habit.  I remind myself that our customs are different and I need to remember to ask more direct questions about his family and anything else I may be curious about.

He dropped me at my hotel and we made plans for him to pick me up the next day to do some shopping.  I needed to have a blouse made to go under my sari. There was a dinner planned with my Indian teammates and I wanted to dress in an authentic Indian custom.  Before we parted, Ravi reminded me that I was going to his house to meet his family the next day and I let him know I definitely remembered and I was looking forward to meeting his family.

A few of my teammates arrived last evening as well and I asked them if they wanted to join me for a little shopping in the morning.  I did let them know that I had plans to meet Ravi’s family later that day.  Ravi took us to a tailor where I could have my blouse made for my sari. I picked out a solid gold colored silk that matched my sari beautifully. We went to a few places and bought a few items, stopped for lunch and then headed back to our hotel. We all needed a little sleep to help with the jet lag as tomorrow would be a full day of work.  Ravi left for a few hours and told me he would return to pick me up exactly at 5:00 pm.  I told him I would be ready.  He started to prepare me for his house and his family.  “I am not a rich man, ma'am.  I have a humble home.” I reassure him his home will be perfectly fine.  He tells me his family is so excited to meet me. I tell him I feel the same excitement and know that it is an honor for me to be invited to his home.  We arrive and start to climb the outside stairs to the third level of a new looking apartment building.  Opening the door I am surprised to see so many people.  Along with his wife and her mother and two children, a boy, 5 and a girl, 7, I meet his brother’s wife and her daughter, Divya, and two other male relatives.  I am asked to sit down and offered tea and cookies.  I look around to take in my surroundings.

The House was tiny, but very clean. It looks like a small one bedroom apartment. We are sitting in a small central room from which you enter all other rooms. No hallways. There are no doors, but instead a cloth curtain hangs over each doorway. Just to give a little perspective, the whole house is about 500-600 sf and 5 people live here full time.

The Central room consisted of a TV in the corner, a washing machine, a daybed (probably used as a bed at night), and a lamp.  As we settled into our places, so we can talk, they brought out several plastic-stacking chairs from the kitchen while some people sat on the floor until the room was full. In the corner of the central room was an Altar that was open to the room and looked to be the size of a small closet, about 2 ft wide ... It had a small step about a foot off the ground for a few religious statues, along with red and yellow powder, incense, and, oil lamps. The kitchen was about the size of an American food pantry about 4 ft wide and 5-6 feet long. It consisted of a sink and small counter with a one burner hot plate. The Bedroom appeared to have one bed and housed all the family clothing and probably everything else they needed. The Bathroom...There is one central faucet in the bathroom. It works for the sink and the shower. I turned the water on to wash my hands and got my head and right arm wet from the shower. I felt like a fool and had to ask for help to turn the water on correctly.  Next to the sink there was a small corner metal shelf for holding the family toothbrushes and a single bar of soap. No counter anywhere.  On the floor next to the sink is a small area for the shower, sitting right next to the trough toilet.

You would think I was a celebrity. My visit created a great amount of excitement and every shining, smiling face was incredibly eager to have a picture with me. This went on for a good hour. “Please just one more picture Mum?”  It was a bit of an inquisition about my life as they very earnestly asked me questions. ”How old are you? How old are your children?  How long have you been married? How old is your husband?  What are your qualifications (schooling)? Can we see your credentials (passport and driver license)? Did I do my own cooking? Did I have servants? How long was my workday? How big is your house?“ A spare bedroom was unimaginable. “How soon are you coming back?”  I had not even left yet and they wanted a commitment for a return visit. Then immediately and genuinely offered the invitation to come stay at their house for however long I wanted. Please come back in a non-official capacity and stay. They have such welcoming arms and very open hearts. There was a lot of chatter about my age. I was older than anyone there. Even Ravi’s mother in law was nine years younger than me. They asked me how I could look so young. How could I say “my life is not as difficult as yours”?

In the middle of all this activity Ravi’s wife appeared in front of me with a small white tray and asked if I would take a blessing.  Yes, of course. Before I knew it, I was having yellow powder painted on each cheek and the traditional red powder placed on my forehead. After that, they wrapped my pony tail with beautiful white flowers, very similar to small Hawaiian lei and wonderfully fragrant. They then proceeded to kneel on either side of me, and then prayed over me while kissing their hands then touching my feet.  This is apparently a traditional Indian blessing. Oh my… All this was too much for my American sensibilities. After all the activity at Ravi’s home, we all piled into his car and went to a restaurant. One child on my lap and one on the mother’s lap, we easily filled the car and two of the men took a motorcycle.

On the way to the restaurant the women pointed out the local store. I have to tell you that this “store” made your simplest farm stands at home look fancy. A store consists of a sack of potatoes with the top of the sack rolled down or some upside down boxes with some vegetable on the top. All of this was under a small open air shack.

Ravi’s niece, Divya ordered dinner, a flavorful and thin broth-like tomato soup, two kinds of chicken, fresh naan and two kinds of rice. It all just kept coming until I could eat no more. Every morsel was delicious. The chicken was so spicy that it took my breath away... I can take the heat but it tested me. The butter naan was the best I have ever eaten. Unbelievable!  The real differences in cultural is this.  The server always fills your plate...no choice in what, or how much you want.  You just say thank you.  There are no utensils. You pick up the saucy chicken and rice using your index and middle fingers or by using the naan, and scoop it into your mouth.  The naan worked great for me.  After you finish eating, you are provided a finger bowl. When they start to clear the table, they bring over the metal bucket and throw the food and plates in one and the cups in the other. No subtlety here, it is just the way it is.

We all climbed back into the car and they drove me back to my hotel. It was a lovely evening and it was, indeed, hard to say goodbye without tears.  I felt their awe as we drove up to the fancy hotel and I felt very spoiled to be going to a hotel room larger than their house. They were most generous of spirit and heart; it was an experience of a lifetime.  I had a difficult time falling asleep and found myself replaying the evening as I lay in what seemed like a very lavish hotel room in a king size bed.  It will forever be such a sweet memory, and also gave me great reason to pause and appreciate how differently we live on the other side of the world.

I have so much more to share about this amazing evening but cannot stay up any longer. The rest of my week will be mostly work, so I will continue with more next time.

 

Flowers for my hair
Divya with me

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