The India of my childhood. I knew her for the six first years of my life, and even when I left, she constantly welcomed me back with open arms. This India nourished me, gave me a family, and provided delicious food: rose Faloodas, sizzling Bombay duck with daal and rice, pepper and chili crabs eaten in the afternoon heat, cold coconut water with malai. The India of my childhood brought me evenings drinking chai on the ground floor of Cuz-Inns, the family-owned building in Bombay, filled with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. She brought me days spent swimming in beaches by the Arabian Sea and in pools of blue waters. She brought me laughter as I played Rummikub and card games with my grandparents around a shining glass dining table.
But the India of my childhood has changed. She isn’t who she once was. And as I grow and change, I wonder if she was ever there at all.
I went back to Bombay this year for the first time after graduating from university, and I began to notice the difference. This India is filled with worries and prayers, and with a greater awareness of injustice.
She still holds the family and food I hold dear to my heart, but now she brings a heavier burden: old and weary parents hurt by the actions of selfish children and yearning for the simpler days, discord and harsh words spoken when one has had a tad too much to drink, empty rooms where loved ones used to sleep. Where laughter and constant noise once rang through the halls, things are a little quieter as kid cousins get older and go to school and as lives get busier and more complicated.
Where did the India of my childhood go?
I believe she’s still here. She still brings me peace and joy (and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten). But as I sit in Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport waiting to board my flight back home, I realize that this time, she has brought me much more.
She taught me the importance of being thankful for what I have, especially what I take for granted. Because until now, I have never met people more thankful for God’s blessings in their lives than those I know here.
She taught me to suffer with others. I listened to stories from loved ones, of their fears and trials. I mourned with those who lost siblings and spouses at a young age and with those who were abused by family. I learned how to better trust in God and to pray when there is nothing I can do to make someone’s day better.
She taught me about faith, about the different ways that faith can manifest, and how to not judge when someone’s interpretation of faith is not my own. I saw faith in a woman who didn’t know how to read and write and had faced the bleakest of trials. She prays to Jesus even though she cannot read His Word, and her faith shines through her kindness and generosity.
With this faith, suffering, and gratitude, this India is different from that of my childhood. I have come to realize that the biggest difference is that while she is still there for me, I am now also there for her.