I stood there with no shoes on. Feet were all dirty and wet. They had been that way for the last two days or so. I couldn’t find my shoes! The only sounds were the lazy raindrops that had yet made their way to the pavement from the roof.
I sat on the bus ride from Bangalore to Puttur (a small town near Mangalore) and thought hard about life. Somewhere along the 8 hour ride, I fell asleep and woke up to a faint sunrise and the familiar billboards painted with Konkani-sounding last names near the main Puttur bus stand. A short rikshaw ride later I was laying down next to a bunch of family and faded to sleep to the chatter of them catching up on the events of the last few days. I woke up a few hours later to the sounds of one very special little person. One of the main motivations for moving to India was to have a connection to the next generation of kids in my family. Last time I visited, my cousin's daughter didn't recognize me at all!I jumped out of bed and jumped into the family room. She kinda looked up at me with super droopy sleepy eyes and super curly hair. I reached into my backpack and pulled out the pink butterfly wristband I had gotten her months before in anticipation of seeing her. She screamed with the kind of excitement that only a 3 year old year could muster, "BUTTTTTTTTERFLY!" and then laughed and smiled a lot. Her grandma asked her if she recognized me and she said, "GULLIMAAAM." (My nickname is Gulli and maam means uncle).
Bout an hour later I was sitting out on the stoop. When I'm older, I hope to have a stoop half as amazing as this stoop. It has a 3-person bench swing that's surrounded by lush garden plants and overlooks a bright red clay field that's circled by coconut trees. Next to me was a woman that might as well be my third grandma. I sat and read a magazine as she strung together a bunch of jasmine flowers for her hair. Between our individual activities we chatted about our favorite things to cook and eat. She gave me lots of old school cooking advice and I filled her in on some of the San Ramon Kamath home brews and kitchen remixes. We also complained about how some people just totally mess up certain recipes. I kinda felt like an old grandma for a little bit. It was awesomely weird. In one of the rooms in the house, her husband is bedridden and not doing so well. I still remember when he was the lion of their family. When I was super little, he would hold my hand and walk me into the middle of town. He seemed to know everyone along the way.
My plan for the rest of the trip was to enjoy the festivities for Ganapathi Chathurti, a Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Lord Ganesha. There were so many great moments on that Sunday of poojas. Families that hold poojas in their homes will sculpt their own Ganeshas out of clay. The level of detail in the sculptures is always amazing and this year it was pretty cool to see that the next generation of kids had taken over a lot of the sculpting process. There was delicious food and lots of relatives. There was an overwhelming sense of community everyone around town. The list of cool shit is quite long. I may or may not remember all of that. What I will remember though is something that happened at the very end of the night.
The day had begun around 5am for most people. Most people had helped build something, cook something, move something or partaken in some other odd job. People were exhausted and it must have been around 11pm. There was a pooja for my immediate family and I went up to the altar to accept the fruits and flower offerings. Whenever I get something in a temple, I quickly hand it over to my aunt because I don't know what to do. She's quite a woman. She's always making sure that EVERYONE else eats or everyone else is taken care of before she worries about herself. I handed her the platter and she took a banana for herself. It might not sound that crazy but she really never takes anything for herself without offering it to someone else first. She turned around, walked over to the servant that was sitting in the corner (hidden away from most people. she had been working hard since the morning too) and gave her the banana. I've seen a few home owners offer their servants food but I've never seen someone offer a servant an offering from a pooja. I felt pretty proud of my aunt.
India's not about perfection. It's a country that forces you to evolve and adapt and adjust to find happiness. If you don't allow yourself to be flexible, you're not going to survive. I have to remind myself of that almost everyday as something or other is always frustrating the hell out of me. I have to remind myself that it's about appreciating the everyday magic that only happens in simple interactions.
We ate dinner and everyone went off to bed. I walked back down the dark narrow corridor between houses. My family has lived in that house for generation after generation and I thought about how many people had walked the same path.
The rainwater had built a shallow puddle in front of our house. The water washed some of the dirt off that had build up on my feet. I stood there with no shoes on. Feet were all dirty and wet. For the first time I forgot about my shoes. I looked out into the courtyard, turned off the patio light and went to bed.