Where I began: Patiala

Foreword

I’ve been bubbling with observations since coming to India. I guess also generally I haven’t said much in my life so far – publicly at least, and it was about time because I’m actually very opinionated and only a few people know this. Here’s my blog, let’s hope it gets better with time 😀

Day 1: Journey from New Delhi

The ‘India’s shining’ rhetoric is everywhere in the world. I hadn’t been to India in five years and because of this rhetoric expected to see an almost-second-world country. But India remains poor and the problems keep growing. I’ll write about population later which I believe is one of the biggest challenges.

Upon landing in New Delhi at least, India manages to keep the ‘India’s shining’ misconception alive. My first thoughts were ‘Well the airport looks great’. I liked how clean it was and how the ladies and gents bathrooms were marked by big beautiful pictures of Indian men and women. 

Traffic out of Delhi was awful. It took us 2 and ½ hours in the Indo-canadian bus to just get out of New Delhi.  Note to all: always take domestic flights to Amritsar OR take the metro from New Delhi airport to the train station and hop on a train.

Days- 2-5: Patiala – my birthplace

I’m in my Grandad’s house. He has a bad cough, poor man, but a cheerful spirit. He makes me happy because every now and again he tells a joke or laughs and his face lights up with such warm smiles. I actually inherited my smile from him. He looks like the sultan in Aladdin more than ever. 

I’m also happy to be in this house because this was where my grandmother was, and I could not attend her funeral which no doubt left a sense of incompleteness about her death. Funerals are so important. She passed away the week I started university.  I’m grateful I could come to her house now. I’ve had dreams where I came back and she was still here. I had to address that she’d gone .

That's where Patiala is
That’s where Patiala is

Observations from all 3 days which have blurred into one big colourful adventure

Some things have not changed in Patiala or my grandad’s house. These are not new to Indians, but remember I hadn’t been back for 5 years and had the luxury of seeing everything from a first-world perspective. Here are my muddled observations:

*There is no water between 10 am to 12pm every day.

*There is no shower, only buckets and mugs. I surprise myself when I discover that it’s actually much more satisfying to wash with a bucket and a mug. It feels more cleansing because there’s a lot of weight in the water and I guess because it’s always satisfying to do manual labour – which you don’t with an on-the-wall shower. I just wish I wasn’t using the bucket I’d thrown up in two nights ago to wash myself. C’est la vie, I guess.

*There is no washing machine or dishwasher. I feel bad giving the maid my underpants to wash. And then I feel kind of ill seeing that she’s using really diluted washing up liquid to wash our dishes – which often still have vegetable stains on the sides. I remember passing my cousin a glass of juice and us both looking at the smudges at the top of the glasses thinking they hardly looked like they’d been washed.

*Visitors come often without phoning ahead of time.  We had various guests come over – doctor friends who also take care of my grandad, the maid’s son who helps in odd jobs around the house (as my granddad put it: “I get three people for one salary, it’s great!” – her daughter also comes over sometimes).  And then a ton of other neighbours – one inviting my granddad to his granddaughter’s wedding and telling me proudly his son-in-law works at IBM. He didn’t mention where his grand-daughter works I noticed. I could be biased as I do have pre-conceived notions, but I still think girls are under-rated here. When people to appreciate daughters it’s in the context of ‘they are more caring than sons’. Which is generally true. But what no one says is: girls can be as smart, as emotionally strong, as ambitious, as courageous and as able to provide material comfort as sons. No one says that. They say they’re more caring, sensitive instead. I fear I could earn the moon and stars, be the CEO of a huge company, solve climate change, and still some old Indian men and women will think a son would have been better. I ought to give up wanting to win everyone’s respect.

*The number and variety of shops amazes me and is almost utopic. Shops that sell only turbans. Shops that dye turbans. Shops that sell only ayurvedic medicines. Those that sell only fabrics. Vendors that mend shoes by the side of the road. You have to give it to people for entrepreneurship and for knowing how to trade and specialise. Beautiful.

*Some people are super-religious. Duhhh. But for example, my Grandad’s physiotherapist sounds like a religious guru. I’d overheard physiotherapy sessions and they sound like sermons. “God is one” etc. I nodded along during the religious lectures various people have given me. My religious beliefs? Agnostic.

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