Given how grateful I feel for having the opportunity to live with my wonderful host family, I have not given them justice through this blog so far.
The people in my house are Pinkuji, his mother (I call her Mata ji which means “Mother”), his sister Punam (I call her Didi which means “sister”), and his sister’s son Omesh. Each of them have made me feel so welcome and have displayed genuine appreciation for my presence in their home. Along with my Indian family, I have a family of other foreigners living in the house: Jon, another guy from my program; Kathrin, a German girl doing a gap year in Varanasi; and Ian, another student on a different program from New York.
I have my own room upstairs, which isn’t anything fancy but it still feels like my own space. In the US, I would spend hours setting up room decorations in my room, decking the walls with art and reminders of things that make me happy, like a yoga cat calendar or prayer flags. My mom also passed on to me one of her fine traits–a hatred for overhead lighting–and one of the only things I was strict about with my freshman year roommate was that we would not be touching the overhead switch. Here, however, my standards are not as strict. Indians don’t tend to focus much on the ambiance of spaces. Floors are usually concrete and carpet-less. Beds are crammed in awkward corners up close against other pieces of furniture. Many homes have chipping wall paint and dim lighting, and sometimes in the middle of a wall will be a lone crooked poster of a baby staring into the camera underneath the phrase: “Size does not matter only DARING. I am ready to fight.” I have yet to understand some of these interior decorating methods. Maybe it is because of this that my standards for “ambiance” has shifted here. I have no decorations on my wall and when I turn on my fluorescent tube light, I barely even flinch.
Pinku ji’s main job is working with foreigners in Varanasi. He is an excellent tour guide of the city; our program took a tour with him during our first few weeks here and he showed us the nooks and crannies of Banaras that I would have never found on my own. He is also a Hindi teacher, and in order to help me with my language skills, will only converse with me in Hindi.
Mata ji is one of the sweetest old women I have met. She also clearly runs the house despite her stiff body and old age. She is the head cook and Omesh’s main authoritative figure. Mata ji frequently talks about how happy it makes her to have foreigners living in the house, and tells us that we are her kids. One night during dinner, after serving us all our food, she surveyed the scene and her eyes filled with tears as she made a comment about how nice it is to have a full house.
Punam (or Didi as I call her) is a lovely young woman. She is married, but lives with her son (Omesh) separately from her husband, because they don’t have a good relationship. I’m not exactly sure what the background is, but she tells me almost every day, “Omesh ka papa accha nahi hai, Omesh’s dad is not good.” She is very enthusiastic about wanting to learn English, and some evenings I sit down with her and teach her some basics.
Omesh is a 4 year old boy exploding with energy. He is one of the sweetest and also one of the most disobedient kids I’ve met. One minute he’ll be smothering you with kisses; the next he’ll be screaming your ears out about not being able to watch cartoons during dinner.
The following picture is a pretty good representation of the evening atmosphere at the house. Mata ji is giving Jon a head massage with coconut oil, and Omesh is showing off his bare butt for the camera. Kathrin is on the right evaluating the situation.
Mata ji, Punam, and Omesh don’t speak much English, which is excellent for my Hindi. Communicating with them also makes me realize how much I have learned, as I manage to understand about 80-90% of what they say to me and end up serving as a translator for Kathrin and Ian and sometimes for Jon as well.
Pinku ji is married; however his wife is a teacher at a boarding school on the other side of Varanasi, and she lives there with their daughter who attends the school as well. Vedika is 9 years old and in 4th grade. Her English is unbelievably fluid and she is both sweet and sassy. Jon, Kathrin, and I have taken two trips on the weekend to visit them and hang out. The school campus is separated from the rest of the city, and judging by the open spaces, gardens, and greenery, you would think it is a whole different city itself. It’s a beautiful retreat from the general dusty, loud, and crowded atmosphere of Banaras.
Most of the
time I spend with my family is in the evenings when I get home from my day’s adventures. I often help out with the dinner preparations by making chapati (Indian flat bread eaten with almost every meal). Since I used to make chapati every day when I lived with my Himachali family, my Banarasi family was curious to see how they turned out. Mychapati-making skills are apparently good enough for them, as they now frequently ask me to make them. Mata ji also enjoys giving us foreigners cooking lessons. Her food is relatively simple as far as Indian food goes, but it is delicious and in many ways is quite different from the food my Himachali family makes. I’m looking forward to going home with a new repertoire of Indian cooking skills.
I attribute much of my positive feelings here to having a place to go home every day where I feel comfortable and loved. I am so lucky to have the opportunity to cultivate a relationship with yet another Indian family.