Many people do not know that my father, Alok, was born and raised in a small village in the Uttar Pradesh region of India. His village, Haathia, is across the Tamsa River, on the outskirts of Azamgarh city.
From Agra, we travelled to Varanasi– one step closer to my family’s hometown. [Varanasi sits on the Ganges River and is known in India as the Holy city.]
As I began to feel better I started to further appreciate the smells, tastes, and feels of Northern India. The air quality in the rural areas was not better, but it was easier for me to handle. Dust and dirt levels were higher, while car exhaust and burning plastic fumes were lower.
Dad’s Hindi was truly put to the test when he was coordinating our travels to his home town. After many phone calls back and forth, he concluded that his two cousins were driving to Varanasi to pick us up at 7am. We questioned why they were leaving Azamgarh (which was about 4 hours away) so early, but Dad told us not to worry. After waking up early enough to get ready and pack up our bags, my dad told us that he had misunderstood. The cousins were planning on leaving Azamgarh at 7am. This meant they wouldn’t get to Varanasi until 11 (at the earliest).
Alok’s cousins, Praveen, (also known as Hinay), and Keso, (also known as Bara Bhai, Big Brother), arrived shortly after noon. We loaded up the two cars and started our adventure towards Azamgarh. The drive was crazy. Some roads were no wider than the car’s axle, which wouldn’t have been a problem if it were not for the sharp turns and oncoming cars, cows, and bicycles. We stopped for a (much needed) break with steaming roadside chai and pakori.
We arrived at the family’s house and were greeted by Parinda with burning incense and ghee. My father was reunited with his aunt, (who is like a second mother to him), after nearly 30 years.
We all huddled closely to the table, with the rest of the family standing around our chairs, and listened to Amma tell stories.
The youngest generation of women stayed in the kitchen in order to prepare us a delicious snack of Ghughri. Amma asked Alok if he liked the Ghughri. He responded yes and told Ama that he liked the potatoes– probably because he couldn’t remember the Hindi word for green pees. She then proceeded to pick out the potatoes from the extra cup and give them to Dad. The women insisted on washing our feet, which is a tremendous sign of respect in Indian culture.
The rest of the time with family was a blur of posing for photos and communicating through a thick language barrier. Everywhere I turned, there was a flashing camera– documenting this historical reunion and first-time meeting of family members from across the globe.
We went up to the roof during sunset and watched flickering kites backdropped by a killer sunset. Once the sun set we went to the local temple with my dad’s cousin, Urchena, and her daughter Priti.
After the temple we spent some time at the other Azamgarh house. Cousin Chinki did beautiful henna for Kayla, mom, and I. We returned to the first house and were served a delicious dinner prepared by the women. We were served along Amma, however the rest of the family just gathered and watched as we ate. They refused to eat while we were eating– they made sure our well being was prioritized.