Ever since we relocated to India from the U.S. in 2006, we’ve heard an incessant barrage of negative judgements about our decision. What could possibly have convinced us to do such a thing, most people wonder, when half this country wants to do exactly the opposite? Questioners have often probed me, offering their own stereotypical reasons from “visa problems” to “job issues” to “wife didn’t like it?” I would reply with big-picture, philosophical reasons, because few people could understand that it was very simply what my wife and I wanted to do.
With all that questioning, there have been occasions in the last nine years, despite everything being perfectly fine, when I too have wondered why we came back. Though I may have verbalised long explanations to the sceptics, for me the move back was for much simpler reasons. One of these was put into perspective during a family holiday.
Three years ago, we had made plans to travel to Rajasthan for the Diwali break. My wife, daughter, and I were taking my in-laws, who are incidentally also our neighbours in Mumbai, along on the trip.
For months before the journey, my daughter, and her grandfather had been discussing in great detail the home where he grew up in Sadri village, a stone’s throw from Rajasthan’s famous Ranakpur temple. My father-in-law was part of a Marwari trading family that included parents, three brothers, and two sisters. He explained to her that it was a home without electricity, where he had brought his new bride, and to which she would carry pots of water on her head from the local well.
Our Rajasthan trip began in Udaipur at a wonderful homestay. We enjoyed the expected beauty of the city’s palaces, lakes, and the Maharajah’s vintage car collection. We drove to Chittorgarh and Kumbhalgarh forts where I relived my school history texts. The historical details my wife and I remembered were further enriched by my father-in-law’s deep knowledge of the region he was from. In particular he gave us an alternative view: Of how Marwari traders had made Rajput valour possible through financial support, though the history books have not really provided any recognition of this role.
Our six-year-old daughter was enthralled by these practical lessons in history. Like a sponge she seemed to be absorbing everything her grandfather narrated, posing the kinds of questions only someone that age can. While she found it all interesting, what she eagerly awaited was the detour to Sadri.
No one lives in my father-in-law’s ancestral home in Sadri now. It’s still looked after by him and his siblings and had been recently painted and cleaned. As the door of the house opened, no camera could capture the look of delight on both their faces. For my six-year-old, everything she had pictured suddenly came alive: her great-grandfather sitting on the otla watching the village go by, her great-grandmother in the kitchen preparing meals for her large family over the sigri. She reached to open an old Monaco biscuit tin and found a lump of sugar still in it. She marvelled at all the old-style suitcases, which the family must have used travelling back and forth to Bombay, where they later moved. She spun the stone chakki at which her grandmother had ground spices as a young bride. It was better than any amusement park she could have visited.
My 70-year-old father-in-law turned six himself, behaving as if he had just brought his best friend home. Forgetting the rest of us, he took his little granddaughter to every corner of the house. They held hands and climbed the staircase to the terrace. She was given a special tour, with an extended stop at the room where he and his wife had lived after they were married. From his window he pointed out Kumbhalgarh fort in the distance, a place he had longed to visit as a child. Nothing could quite match their combined awe when he showed her his cupboard, a small hole in the wall measuring about 2×2 feet and barely a foot deep. “Everything I owned in the world fit in this,” he said, “and I shared it with my brother.”
On this journey it became even clearer to me why we moved back to India. When I think back to all the logical explanations I’ve spewed about our returning, few make as much sense as this one. That we returned here to turn back time and connect two best friends.
Appeared in the September 2015 issue as “Connecting the Dots”.