Sunday, November 13, 2011

A visit with my uncle in Ghasiabad

Yesterday I called my uncle Amar, his father and my grandfather were brothers which makes him my father's cousin. We spoke a bit on the phone yesterday and then he invited me to visit him in the city of Ghaziabad which is east of New Delhi. He's a retired banker and now working on something else, can't remember. He asked when I could come to visit and I said tomorrow (which meant today). So this morning after coffee and breakfast  I took the Delhi Metro (I'm an expert at this now) on four trains and one hour later he picked me up at the station in Ghaziabad. At his house was his wife, his son Rajat (my cousin) and his wife and son. I learned so much today that it's still spinning in my head. I have to go through my notes but here are some high lights;

Amar and his wife in the middle with their son Rajat and his family

Our family name started at around 1000ac with a mogul emperor named, well, can't remember, my notes are being emailed to me so I'll have the actual name later but for now my mind is drawing a blank. But that's the starting point for our family name.  The Indians have a very extensive system for documenting families. Each temple in India and especially those along the Ganges kept a record of every person that ever visited with notes and dates, family members and so on. It's all on scrolls. Because Hindus visit the Ganges and specifically the holy city of Varanasi the temples along the river and in this city will have the most records.  I will be going to the temples in Meerut, Lucknow Varanasi and anywhere else I happen to be. What I have to do is tell the priest my family name and city and in a matter of minutes he'll pull all the scripts with our name and explain everything in detail. I have to pay for the service and if satisfied leave a few rupees as a donation to the temple.

Rajat, Amar's son, showed me some medals that were dated December 12 1911 that were given to our great grandfather when King George the fifth and Queen Mary were coronated in Delhi. And medals given to our grandfather's youngest brother in 1909 for First Place in gymnastics. Really cool.

As is customary in India the guest is to arrive with a box of sweets, so I took a very nice gift box. We talked about so much that its' hard to put it all down right now. We talked about family politics, the ancestral home, religion, customs and so much more.  They made me feel so welcome and took me in as if I were part of the family since birth. According to Amar we are part of his family since birth.

Wow, the conversations we had. I also had a fun time with Rajat's 18 month old son, it took all afternoon for him to warm up to me but he did.

Then we went out to lunch at 2pm to the nearby mall. Yes, the mall. What a large and beautiful mall. Once inside you forget that you're in India. No horns honking, no smog, nothing inside reminds you of the choas that exists outside. We went to a fine dining restaurant and the food was outstanding (all the food here is). The waiters put the food on your table, then serve on your plate, then stand and watch and when your plate is almost empty the put more food on it. If you want another piece of naan they take it from the basket and put it on your plate. The do everything except feed you. Very nice, I'm getting used to this. I wanted to pay but Rajat insisted that we follow traditional Indian customs and let the eldest at the table pay. I like that tradition and have been practicing that for a long time with mom. Actually the way it works is the eldest is supposed to pay however someone younger at the table can offer to pay. It is up to the eldest, one yes or one no is the only answer, there is no going back and forth. We talked, we laughed, we laughed harder.

I spoke Hindi at times too, some I  remember from a child and some by listening in the past few days. Amar is mychacha ji and his wife is our chachi ji so when I addressed them as such they were impressed. I would answer yes and no in Hindi as well as a few other words. It was fun and nice to do .

Rajat and his family live in Gurgaon which is a very affluent city to the SW of New Delhi and that's where I will be staying any time I return to Delhi (provided I can find an affordable place). They are my age, way cool and he used to be a chef. They love food and have given me some names of places and will be taking me to places when I go to visit. Rajat has friends all over India, some own hotels, some own extreme sports companies and he's hooking me up with a lot of contacts. He wants me to go to Goa in December for Christmas, it's supposed to be the most beautiful place in all of India for Christmas. He'll help me find a hotel. Amar ji (ji is added to the end of a name as a sign of respect) and Rajat have a friend that lives in a rural part in the state of Kerala, it's a small village where there are no westerners and there is a house they can put me up in. I'm headed back there after mom and steve leave.

Shit. I have to do the temples. I guess I could fast track it through Lucknow and Varanasi. I want to do Rajasthan, it's supposed to be the most romantic state (and is the desert state). Amar wants me to go to Punjab to see his brother. Then I have to go to Goa for a week, then to Kerala for a week. and I have another wedding in Meerut to go to, that's a week. I don't think thatI have enough time! One week in each Goa, Kerala, Meerut, Delhi, Varanasi is five weeks. So how the heck do I fit Rajasthan and Punjab in, and what if I want to stay more than a week.

Random thought. The normal work day in India is 10am to 5pm only. In rare circumstances 9 to 6. That is the traditional Indian work day. Time spent with family at home is a high priority. In India it used to be that when you took a job you stuck with that employer for the rest of your working career. Amar said that with todays generation there is no loyalty or honor anymore, it's all about the dollar and no one hesitates to move on if the pay is better. That sounds familiar.

There is a place in Gurgaon called Kingdom of Dreams that is like Circus O Lay (don't ask me to look up the spelling), they say it's great. There's a place in Delhi that is the food heaven of the city. All the street foods of India are represented but it's a high class very clean environment for the upper class I guess you could say. She wants to take us all there. And they say the best restaurant in Delhi is near their house.

The entire family is treating me like I'm their own son and brother. I'm stunned, impressed, amazed.

Ghaziabad is a big city, and it is what one expects India to be like. Roaming cows, beggars, congestion, chaos. But somewhere in the hectic mess is a beautiful and quiet place, where Amar lives. 

Some neat things I learned today; Young Indian boys and girls wear dark eye liner for three reasons. The first is as an antiseptic and insect repellent, the second is to ward off evil spirits and the third is to emphasize the beauty of they eyes. Young boys wear around their waist to ward off evil spirits but because it many young boys run around naked it is also used to draw the attention away from the genitals (so I'm told). Loin clothes and underwear became popular so boys could protect their parts from scrapes and such if they fell down while playing or running. When driving it is good luck to always move the car forward even if just an inch before putting it into reverse. It is customary for the eldest at the table to buy dinner. A younger person can offer to pay but it is the decision of the eldest to let him p

Prepackaged gifts at the sweets store
Custard type sweets

Given to my great grandfather in 1911 when King George and Qween Mary were corinated in New Delhi

Amar's House
The mall in Ghaziabad

Two girls on the street approached me and asked me to take their picture

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