|In the dry harsh climate of Chogath, in India's
West, Nisar Keshvani discovers his roots on a journey of self discovery
in his motherland.
The mention of India brings back vague, yet fond memories. I
haven't spent much time there but when I visit I feel at home - there
seems to be a little part of me back there.
My ties came to mind only recently, when I moved away from home to
study here in Australia. I started re-evaluating my roots and saw
the importance of maintaining links with our 'home' countries, even
though we belong to the multi-cultural generation.
I was born and raised in Singapore but my heritage lies in India -
Gujarat in the west, to be exact.
There have been short trips back to India and each has been a unique
experience. This journey with my parents to their respective home
towns was no different. My mother comes from a small village called
Chogath and it's a half-day's journey from my father's town, Amreli.
From Bombay it takes about three days - a 30-hour train journey on
the Sarvodya Express to Ahmedabad.
It is a picturesque ride with the breath-taking Rajasthani desert.
Although hills and mountains pepper the journey, signs of poverty
and slums scatter the tracks to remind me of the less fortunate and
cruel realities of life.
Each stop brings added excitement. Make-shift stalls along the tracks
sell delicious, freshly made pakodas (potato fritters) and refreshing
chai (tea) to help any traveler regain his zest. Young kids rush up
the train carriages, shouting out what they have for sale. Items range
from masala (spicy) sandwiches to Thumbs-up (Indian version of Coke).
Other kids, just as enterprising, give leather shoes a fresh gleam
or men a quick shave for a single rupee.
Every few stops, a young child with dolak (drum) in hand sounds a
tune while a group of transvestites perform renditions of the latest
Hindi cinema hits, and seemingly to everyone's delight. Friendly passengers
engage in chit-chat about their lives and family.
Bumping into a foreigner is rare, and they politely ask me where I
come from and what lies ahead.
Upon arrival at Ahmedabad, and after a little price-haggling with
the taxi-driver, it's an 8-hour journey to Dhola Junction, near Bhavnagar.
Women toiling in the rice fields, cattle and smiling kids are common
sights along the way. There is ample opportunity to stop and stretch,
or grab a quick Dosai (rice pancake) to make the trip seem a little
Almost halfway there!
The last part of the journey is completed in a tempo (small
three-wheeled pick-up). The entrepreneurial driver has packed his
tempo with goods that need delivery to the villages and he makes sure
the long journey is a profitable one.
Finally, Chogath falls into view. Although weary and hungry, the sight
of villagers gathering around the tempo is heart-warming. Not all
are Muslims, but they welcome me all the same. That is the magic of
village life - Hindus, Muslims and Jains living peacefully together.
With each 'homecoming', seeing a few new faces is inevitable; freshly
tied matrimonial bonds and newborns but, sadly, some are missing.
Once-familiar faces, now gone into the hereafter, reminding me to
cherish each moment with my loved ones. Then it is time for the customary
visit to the cemetery to pay respects to my grandparents.
Morning arrives and like all big cities around the world, this little
village is busy with folk making their way to work. Men with tiffin
(packed lunch) in hand head to their jobs, either to run stalls in
the marketplace, or to work in fields. I sat at my uncle's sundry
stall as customers popped by to pick up daily essentials and chit-chat.
Women begin their day with a trip to the river for the ritualistic
dhobi-style clothes wash, fetching water from the wells in groups.
Children head to a nearby school, while the younger ones have fun
spinning tops or flying kites in an adjacent valley.
There's a strong sense of community here. After dinner, villagers
gather to chat, smoke and drink tea together. Only one house has a
television set and some people congregate there to watch their favourite
Hindi series, the Ramayana (Indian folklore epic) on Doordashan TV.
But I sit and talk with my mother as she describes the Samu Lagan,
a typical mass wedding. There is one approaching and the village has
already begun preparations.
A huge tent with a stage has been set up for almost 30 couples to
be married on the same day.
It's an economical option, with each family chipping in a donation
for the wedding expenses.
I regret that I won't be present for the Samu Lagan but as my mother
continues I can almost see the families busily preparing the bride's
dowry with intricate saris and decking her with jewellery, the traditional
bronze-plated cookware and a thalli (tray normally filled with ornaments
The celebration begins with a mehandi ceremony, where ladies lace
their hands with henna. The next day, there is a pithi ceremony, where
village women adorn the bride's hands and face with turmeric powder.
It is a belief that this softens and whitens the bride's skin so she
will be radiant for the wedding.
The bridegroom arrives at the village for a lunch ceremony and the
nikah (wedding ceremony). The kadi (marriage solemniser) performs
the rituals for three pre-selected couples over the loudspeakers for
all to hear. The rest wait patiently as their turn arrives and the
two appointed kadis go from couple to couple, performing the traditional
Guests rejoice and congratulate the families as the bride prepares
to head for the groom's home. The vidai (farewell) marks a sad occasion
for her family. They're in tears as she's whisked away by the groom
in whatever vehicle he owns, be it bullock cart or bus. This is the
symbolic 'sending off' of the bride to her new home.
I will return to my new home, Australia, before the Samu Lagan, missing
the chance to witness a traditional Indian wedding. My cousin's marriage
will be soon and I hope to be back. It will be the first chance I
have to become immersed in my cultural heritage, an integral part
of one's being. And again, I will further re-discover my roots.