I’m staring at the side window of the Ambassador (an old 1950’s British Morris Oxford series III vehicle renamed the Ambassador as it’s manufacture began in India in 1957) and all I’m able to see is my 8 year old saturated face bursting with gushing blood dripping down each angle from the top of my head sifting downwards thru my face towards the ground as my eyes veer and see the blood hit surface. I then notice all the razor-sharp pieces of solid glass scattered throughout my face with the bigger jagged edges protruding outwards from the area right above my eyebrows down to the upper part of my eyelids closer to vertex point of my nose. I say to my older sister with an innocently exciting smile, “Hey Didi, Didi (Didi means sister in Hindi) look at my face it’s covered with blood and glass!” She says with the deepest concern and care for her little brother in her motherly voice, “Oh Sammie, are you okay baby, I can’t believe that drunken driver in the Police Jeep, may he rot. SOMEONE PLEASE HELP!!!” She then gives me a tight hug.
Earlier that summer in 1988 my folks and I went to New Delhi, India to celebrate the Graha Pervesh or House-warming of a home my Father built with his brother. My Father and elder uncle worked in conjunction to build a home in Delhi, India. My Grandmother explained, “Bharkudhar, yeh ghar pure zindagi ke liye fayda dega, kiraye ke paise milte jayenge. Aur tere bhai ke saath acha rahega.” Meaning my courageous son this home can be an investment property that can give you financial benefits for the rest of your life and things will be good with your brother and his family always. My Father then cleaned out his savings and gave his brother the money to build a new home for both families in New Delhi.
Growing up my Father was predominantly the “bread-baker” in our family, we come from a modest background. Going further back for a sec my Father grew up in a 3 bedroom flat in Delhi with his 6 brothers and 2 sisters, he then immigrated to the United States of America in 1974 and hard earned money was a precious commodity that was immensely valued. When he arrived to the US he had an Engineering degree yet with no ego would do whatever it takes to support his family, he worked as a Janitor and Welder to earn enough for him, his wife and the family he wanted to start. Until this day the thought of my Father slaving hard for his family brings droplets of elation and motivation to my eyes. I’ve always told him if I can work one/one millionth as hard as you Dad then I can do anything. My parents wanted my sister and I to grow up with Indian values and a knowledge of our culture, family and traditions so they thought the best way for them to improve chances of raising their kids who were born in America was to save up and take’em to India as often as possible.
The first time they were able to afford a trip back to India was at the end of 1980 the year I was born, my sister was almost five years older than me and it had been six years since they visited India. As we grew up my Dad continued to work as hard as he could with at least two jobs and my Mom would dedicate her time to raising her children in the best possible way she could. They believed that we would learn English in school so they spoke to us in Hindi from the beginning and made sure that we conversed with our grandparents and relatives who ALL lived in India in Hindi as well, it was good intentioned conditioning. So about 8 years after my birth and 14 years after they moved to the U.S my Dad was able to make a major contribution to his family, so we were off to India in the summer of 88′!
We get off the plane and the holy smell of India is universal it’s everywhere, the smell transpires through my nose and this is the smell inside the airport, it’s a bit worse outside because the pollution commingles with producing the strong pollution potion! We get outside; it’s about 2am in the morning towards the end of June at the brink of the rainy monsoon season. My Uncle (This is Uncle # 6, the one who my Dad helps builds a house with, we’re pretty close with his family.) runs out to grab his red Maruti Suzuki mini-van (Maruti is the Indian manufactured Suzuki equivalent vehicle) while we’re all waiting under the hooded terminal area basking in the humidity taking a shower in our sweat while watching showers fall from the sky likes there’s been a shower of blessings. My Aunt, Uncle and Grandmother are the only ones to come to the airport since we need space in the car. At 3 am I see cows crossing our path and we pass by areas where the houses are about 6ft squared and 5ft tall built with cow dung covered with leaves. I fall asleep in the car while everyone is yapping away and by the time we get home there’s no trace of the rain just the aftermath of the humidity that conquers each pore of my dripping skin.
The next day is the function; we mostly sleep all of the same morning and day we arrive. I’m standing outside of our new home in New Delhi, India and it seems like its about 120 degrees Fahrenheit or 48 degrees Celsius because in India that’s what they use. I’m taking my second shower of the day as perspiration pries down my back sticking to my cotton shirt which is soaked to my skin. Approximately fifty of us family members are chanting aloud, our footing on a rocky dirt road with dust rising up in the air, a prayer that is commonly known in a spiritual religion I have grown up with, the same one that Gandhi followed called Jainism. The dust starts to bother me not to mention the heat and I ask my Mom for the fifteenth time with brutal frustration in my voice, “Mom, I’m really hot and feel yucky can we go inside NOW??? It feels like we’ve been here for hours already…UH” She says patiently yet firmly with her love-filled etheric voice, “No, Raja Beta the prayers are almost done and after the rest of the ceremony you can go inside.”
The prayers finish and I notice one of my uncles pulling these ovular shaped stringy garlands out of a plastic looking bag and stapled to the strings are 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 rupee bills and suddenly the scorching humid heat and teasing dust disappear from my annoying bill board face, replacing it is a sunny shiny smile. I’m thinking, “All right, at least I’ll get some money for standing out here in the heat, cool!” So one by one my eldest Uncle garlands each of my uncle’s family members and ours, it’s my turn and with a huge smile I accept. I’m the youngest one out of all the brothers in my Dad’s family, only 8 years old enticed with money and the one who is born in the United States so the playful joking never stops, my sister is older, knows the language really well so everyone respects her and doesn’t mock her as much. After the garlands are mounted on each of our necks, the coconut comes out and with one swift thrashing to the ground my Uncle cracks it and the ceremony is complete, in high spirits we all march inside.
The coconut cracking signifies auspicious beginnings to any major event in the Hindu culture. I respect the fact we have to wait for all the ceremonies but the money helps, I have never had that many bills in my hand at one time before, granted they are Indian Rupees (10 Rupees equals $1 in those days) but I’m thinking I know I can buy a lot more soda and candies than I can in America. The ceremony is done now it’s official!! I dash upstairs to where our luggage is and I hide the money under our mattresses on the floor so no one can take it away from me. I’m resting there on the mattress which is on a hard surface cement floor as there are no beds yet, my parents and sister are resting on it too it’s about 4pm and we’re all really jet-lagged.
So I wake up and started thinking back a bit and realized that the function outside only took us a half-hour tops forty-five minutes. At that time I couldn’t understand why we had to stand outside in the horrific heat but now after thinking about it I began to understand it’s a sacred tradition where we ask for a blessing to protect our home, flew half way across the world, everyone else was bearing it, so why not bear it too, be patient, respect it, have an open mind rather than complain and accept the situation I can’t change, instead of repeatedly bugging my Mom. The shame chewed each piece of fulfillment back from my stomach inside as I knew I was avaricious and selfish about the money I was just given by the people that love me, then it occurred to me later like a light bulb bubble in my head we’re all one and I should give as much as I can, I thought to myself, “Come on Sammie your parents taught you better.” Since the beginning, most of my realizations came from introspection and rumination about past events occurred not realizing what I’m doing, feeling in and out at that moment which often made me do something to try and better my behavior or the result of the situation. I did try to do whatever I could to feel better, although I was 8 years old so the bugging my Mom part didn’t stop but appreciation for family matters ascended. Maybe it was the birth of an understanding, friendship that was repeatedly augmented through Mom’s humble heart-felt responses, she got upset at times too but that was the balanced trend in our understanding pointing me to think about where I had crossed my boundaries. I wonder where the selfish greed had grown from?
Tomorrow comes and I tell all my cousins some who are a few years older than me, let’s go out for a while, so we take a rickshaw not an auto-rickshaw or even a cycle rickshaw but one that a gentleman physically carries while holding two rods sticking out from the seating area with his hands pulling two wheels from the back with us four kids sitting on it. With each bump in the road our bums soar in the air lifting us up and landing us down with a bump on our bums. I can only imagine what each part of that gentleman’s body inside and out endures to earn this money. My cousins offer to pay but I proudly exclaim to them this afternoon is on me and I give the gentleman a nice tip as we get off the contraption, tipping a rickshaw guy is pretty unconventional in India but I didn’t care. I go on to buy us all sodas, snacks, desert and candies afterwards along with our fare back home. I’m about to pass on this snack called Aloo Chat or a spicy potato medley, it’s a coarse dark brownish green, lovely, chunky, and fiery potato dish served with a half-splintered toothpick in a small cup-like plate bonded by leaves from who knows where that you savor on the side of the street in the midst of the smoky diesel potion. I change my mind, I think why not, at least let me try to keep an open mind since I’ve already come this far. So I take a shot on the spicy fried Aloo Chat and the first bite touches my tongue entices my palate’s tingling sensation causing a windfall of spicy commotion in my mouth. Like the two hottest salsa dancers are tearing up the floor in an uproar as I dribble saliva back down my pipe. My mind commands my buds of taste to yearn for more than the first time I experience it that day. After bombarding my mouth with bottled water I’m sure glad I tried the snack. I spend it ALL including my greed! But that’s one occurrence at 8 years of age, would I make it continue as – I – Sameyh continues?