Adventures In Indian Hospitality

img_3433.jpgThere’s a certain beauty that comes with traveling someplace for the very first time. Your fleshy, pink lungs breathe in the new air, as if to contaminate themselves with locational coordinates they’ve never before experienced. It’s even more remarkable when that place is the tree from which your roots grew.

I grew up in a household with a Spanish mom, and an Indian dad; something that wasn’t peculiar at all in my mind. I knew that my dad’s skin was darker than mine and my mother’s, but I never really thought much of it. He was just Dad, my mom was just Mom, and I was just Indira.

I remember the first time I set foot in India like it was yesterday, not December of 2002. My young, tired eyes began to inexplicably water as we exited the jet bridge and entered Indira Gandhi International Airport. I rapidly got over my itchy, pollution-stung eyes as I proceeded to tell every person in sight that I shared a name with the building.

The roads in Delhi were not like those in suburban Michigan. Their image resides in my mental dictionary as the picture defining the word ‘disaster.’ As a concerned four-year-old, I asked our cab driver if he was sure he could drive on the same road that the camels trotted upon and families of five crammed onto motorcycles. He chuckled and nodded his head slightly back and forth, in typical Indian-middle-aged-male fashion, “Beti, everybody here is together.”

One of the most beautiful parts of the Indian culture, which I am so grateful to have experienced, is its sense of unity. In the quaint neighborhood of Ashok Vihar, on the older side of the city, I was greeted with warm embraces and uncomfortable cheek pinches by nearly every person that I encountered. They all seemed to know my name, where I came from, and that I was Har Bilas and Shanti’s granddaughter. This definitely inflated my four-year-old, wannabe pop star, ego.

I was welcomed into everyone’s home, whether it be the next door neighbor wanting to feed me fries, or the upstairs neighbor telling me stories in Hindi that I did not understand, but happily listened to anyway. There was a remarkable sense of community; a family beyond the walls that encaged each individual tribe. Having experienced this hospitality made me eager to reciprocate in any way that I could.

One relatively warm evening, as the sun set, my family went for a walk around a market and shopping area near my grandparents’ home. Since this was my first time shopping in India with my family, they naturally wanted to let me have a good time and pick out a few pretty things to buy to later take home with me to the states as keepsakes. I fell in love with the jingly bangles and mirrored purses, and my grandma bought me some with a smile across her face.

I later spotted a stand selling chocolate, a real favorite in my family, and I darted there immediately, grabbing my tiny grandmother by the hand. “Dadiji, Dadiji can I have one?” As the vendor placed the bar into my hand, I turned to look at my parents to show them my sweet treat. But they weren’t looking.

A little boy, no older than six, was asking them for money. By the looks of his clothes, he seemed to be homeless. My mom and I are always very quickly approached in India by people asking for money. The fair skin is a dead giveaway that we are not from there. I was confused as to why such a young boy had to ask complete strangers for money. Where were his parents? Why weren’t they giving him money?

Please, sir, I’m very hungry,” he quietly spoke in Hindi, pressing his hands together. My dad pulled a few rupees out of his wallet. But I felt as though that wasn’t enough. I placed my chocolate bar into his hand and smiled at him. His face illuminated in a way that I have never seen repeated in my life. He thanked me, smiled, and proceeded to get on his way. And that was the last time I ever saw him. I hope that today he has love surrounding him and a job in which he doesn’t have to navigate through the turbulent roads begging for scraps of food and spare change.

I haven’t the slightest idea what provoked me to do such a sweet thing. I think part of it must have been that I knew my grandmother could easily buy me another candy bar. But I also had this intrinsic, automatic sense of compassion towards this boy, and I wanted to help him in any way that I could. This small action has stuck with me vividly for the following fourteen years of my life, and will for the entirety of it.

I like to share this story because I would like to somehow restore myself into the person that I was that day: automatically kind and willing to step up to help somebody out. While I think that I am a generally good person, I still leave uneaten food on my plate, from time to time. I can be selfish and greedy. Like any other human being, I’ve been knocked down by the world and by other people many a time. My brain’s automatic response is no longer “help them out,” but “save yourself first.”  I hope to become a version of myself that does a lot of good for others, but also knows how to take care of herself through out the process. This blog will encompass my journey in finding the ideal balance between these opposing, essential traits.


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