When I started thinking about India, I had no idea where to go. It is a huge country so I needed to make a dreaded plan, but based on what?. Well the weather for a start. Thailand had been warm and sunny and I only had summer clothes with me. I avoid reading too much about a place because I want to discover things for myself and not be drawn to where the guide books tell me. However scrolling past a picture on Google of a painted and decorated elephant, the artist in me said, ‘wouldn’t it be cool to do that’. I wondered where they still paint elephants for weddings and festivals. My research kept leading me to the city of Jaipur in Rathjanistan. I trailed through Airbnb listings and found a family. They sounded friendly and also ran an NGO which they said I could help out with. This appealed to me as I was now in need of some human interaction. The real upside was that I could stay with them for a month for less than 500 euros, well below my budget and they assured me they would find me an Elephant to paint. The downside, I would be arriving in a dark strange city in the middle of the night.
Nitin Sharma was the owner of the AirBnB listing and his quiet voice on the end of the phone said I should jump in an Uber and they would wait up for me. I insisted I could wait in the airport until morning. ) I actually felt it was a safer option) but he insisted I should come and he would not hear of it. The city was vibrant and on fire with lights and life but my Uber driver got lost and we ended up in a rather run down looking district of misshapen brick buildings looking for a gate. Ok I am not nervous, well just momentarily. There is a strange man in the road walking towards us and he taps on my window. “Are you Lauren?” Moment of fear washes away and I am relieved. I have got myself to India, I think to myself, eager for an adventure you crazy old bat.
The house is on three stories and there are shoes piled in the hallway. We climb to the first floor and I walk through a living room with a huge picture of Buddah. Nitin whispers that his family are all asleep as he shows me to a room just off the living room. It is freshly painted pale blue with a pretty rollerblind covering the window between the room and the kitchen. I note it is all very clean. Nitin proudly remarks they have just decorated and I say it is very nice. There is a nice warm ambience and I feel safely welcomed.
Staying with a family in their home can go in two directions, It can be disastrous or the most incredible experience. I am lucky. This family state, this is my home too and I am now family. My first breakfast, proudly presented by Deepti, Nitins wife. She introduces me to her children Laddu their daughter tells me in perfect English that she has been learning some Spanish as her Dad had told her I came from Spain. I explained I was not Spanish, Laddu smiled and said come and meet my grandparents. I am pulled excitedly down a corridor by her little brother to another bedroom. Grandfather is sitting up in bed wearing a bobble hat and watching TV. Grinning from ear to ear He says ‘Welcome, welcome, you are my family’
I am on another planet and so glad to have landed here.
It was wise to do Thailand before India. I’m usually good with culture changes and I need to remind myself it takes time to immerse yourself in something different. However, I find myself saying to myself, ooh look at that and then wanting to write about it. It’s the little things like coming face to face with a cow at the end of your road or children actually asking you, a complete stranger to take their photos. The kids are happy and are not surrounded by western consumerism, they smile and ask you about everything. I love that. The children have nicknamed me Big Daadi, I laugh to myself. Daadi means grandmother. Their other grandmother is in her bedroom ringing bells and chanting, She offers to take me to Yoga in the nearby park. I don’t go but I should have. I regret that. There is poverty outside but I can see through it. I do feel their hardships but their smiles and love , surround them with hope, maybe that is what we have lost in the west. Hope! It is exhausting making the transition but exhilarating. I know I am heading for a great experience in India.