Over our week-long school break for Thanksgiving, our family decided to travel to India. We made plans to visit the North, my grandparents, and a place I was very unfamiliar with, a region in the state of Maharashtra known as Konkan. Konkan is a strip of Marathi land near the coast, and much of it is uninhabited and rich in vegetation. However, my family had distant relatives that did in fact live there, so we decided to give them a visit. Leaving for India, I expected the journey to be about the same as my other ventures into India’s sprawling concrete jungles. I didn’t know at the time however, that this voyage would be a completely new and insightful journey into the heart of India’s rural lands.
As I fast-forward through our first four days upon arrival, nothing seems out the ordinary; I had already seen the bazaars, shops, and high-rises of Thane, a bustling district of the city of Mumbai. It was simply a regular visit to our family, and maybe some shopping for our relatives back in the US. However, On the fourth day of our visit, we left for Konkan. Around noon, our driver came in his 1980 Jeep Station Wagon. We strapped our suitcases to the weak aluminum roof frame, and left Thane, beginning our six-hour journey west to India’s shoreline. It was a long and arduous journey, requiring our family to stay cooped up in a small car barely large enough for just three people. And we were four. For nearly six hours. The car itself was in abhorrent condition. The AC didn’t work, the seats were stuffy, and the windows had to be hand-cranked open. Old, dilapidated, and rusty it was. My brother and I always found something to complain about.
As we neared the coast however, our discomfort slowly gave way to awe. Palm and date trees replaced the bramble and dead we had seen earlier as we neared Konkan. Sea breeze blew through the windows, giving rise to a salty air. Passing village after village; Nakhare, Nalewathar, Pawas, we traveled further into the evening. On arriving at Pawas, our parents began to speak Marathi, to a stranger that my brother and I had never met before. My mother then told our driver in Hindi, to follow him into to our relative’s home. I later found out the stranger who my parents had been talking to was my distant uncle.
The beautiful sun seemed to be engorging itself, growing larger redder as it sank below the horizon. As the sun blew its final breath for that day, our driver illuminated the Jeep’s headlights as we traversed down a dirt path in the heart of Konkan’s jungle. Arriving at our relative’s house, my brother and I was completely dumbfounded at how our distant family (and how we would have to live) lived. Sans AC, Wi-Fi, cell-service, running water, or electricity. The nearest hospital was an hour away, and the nearest commercial store of any kind was no where to be found. I immediately thought that this would be a memorable trip, a trip that I will never forget for living in such discomfort and anguish.
I was completely and entirely mistaken about my surroundings. Because we had arrived at night, I never saw the village that we passed in the dark. I was woken up by the sound of a rooster crowing away, which jolted me awake. As I was brushing my teeth, my brother and I decided that we would head up to the beach. We imagined it couldn’t be that far away; the tides were already lulling us into their grasp. We threw on some sandals, told our parents, and left. Crossing over a river and some farmland, passing by the occasional cow or horse, we reached our destination: Miles upon miles of beach, never visited by the stereotypical tourist. It was a serene landscape. Cliffs to our right, with porous boulders through which hermit crabs and other sea life popped up. Rolling hills to our left, with coconut and date trees swaying with the breeze. And in front of us, waves crashing onto the Samudra-kinara (beach), only to roll up slowly to our feet. We only came back home after we were yelled at by our parents.
Coming back from the beach, we soon found a semi-difficult language barrier to break. I found my relatives knew no English whatsoever. They simply knew Hindi, and Marathi, the national language of India, and the state language of Maharashtra, respectively. For my parents, native speakers of both, it was no struggle for them to speak with my relatives. When my brother and I started to speak however, we came to realize how it was no easy task to communicate efficiently with them. We spoke in a clumsy and stupid way, breaking words that we didn’t know in our language into English, which of course they didn’t understand. This constantly plagued me throughout our stay. One evening, I asked my Aunt for scissors in the evening, so we could open presents for their children, and in my garbled tongue, asked “Maala ‘scissors’ detees ka?” (“Can you give me scissors?” – only scissors were in English). She had no clue what I was talking about, so hurriedly, searching for the correct word, I corrected myself (barely), and said “, Kaathri” (meaning “scissors”).
In the next morning we arrived back at Thane, and soon after that, we took the next flight back to the U.S. For the four days and 3 nights that we stayed at their home, I came to realize that it doesn’t take much for one to stay happy. My distant family, whom we were staying with, had never seen an English sign, and had never had the chance for modern accommodations, yet they still managed to thrive. Their lived and breathed farming and had such a simple lifestyle. It was at an opposite extreme for our family, who had only lived in the suburbs and downtowns of Atlanta, St. Paul, and Lansing. Their backyard was the ocean. The silence and serenity of their village gave me a glimpse of life at its simplest, greatest form.