She greeted us with a traditional ‘namaste’ greeting. Palms pressed together, fingertips pointing heavenwards, hands just below her face. She bowed her head – “welcome”, she said and ushered us into our room – guest quarters at the front of the house. She busied herself, fetching water which was set on a small table in front of us. “You will take tea”? Chai cements all relations in India – to refuse would be unthinkable. Off she went again, and duely the water jug was replaced by a small tray – two cups of chai – sweet milky tea, some cake and ‘namkin’ (spicy nibbles).
Duty, for the moment, complete, she took some time to talk with us and during this and subsequent conversations we learned something of her life. “I am always busy, so many things, so many things”. She tends house and looks after her father-in-law, who at the age of seventy five still works five days a week . “My mother-in-law expired in 1995”, she explained. Her husband works in a city some distance away and she does not see him often – “but sometimes it’s necessary to do things in life for improvement”. Her family is split, her youngest son, five years old, lives with her. He is a beautiful child. I tell her he could be a future Bollywood filmstar – eyes to drown in and long, long, lashes. But she has other ideas, believing him to be holy and a genius. Her eldest son, ten years of age, lives with his father. She hopes next year her husband will be moved to an office nearer home, and things ‘will be better’. In the meanwhile, she cooks – “I give my father-in-law whatever he wants” – washes clothes, plays with her son, and helps him with homework. She recently completed a Bachelor of Arts study to work with nursery school children, “but now, I cannot work. I cannot leave the house alone. If someone should call, or a family member should come, there would be no-one”. It’s clear that she loves her family, considers her husband’s family to be her own, and she often speaks of duty and God. I ask her about the small brass bell hanging from cord from the living room ceiling. “This is my temple”, – she points to a door in front of us – “I ring the bell when I go in, to announce my presence to God”. She invited us inside – portraits of Hindu deities – Ganesh, Laxmi, Rama, Sita, Krishna, and of her own guru adorned the walls. (Hindus believe that everyone should acknowledge a guru – a superior person, near or far, living or dead, to act as a teacher, a guide, a mentor). It was a serene still place.
I commented on the cake and asked if she’d made it herself. Her husband and son had been home for Diwali and the whole family had visited a temple in Udaipur. The cake came from there. “I think you are very lucky. You are coming from Europe, and now you are eating this cake that has been blessed by God. God must have meant you to have it”.
* This family are Servas hosts. People who want to meet travellers from different countries, learn about different cultures and ways of life, offer travellers a place to stay in their own home. It’s an authentic way to travel, and a welcome change from visiting tourist sights.