Do you ever walk past some place, somewhere and catch a whiff of a smell, something so familiar and instantly you are transported to a place in your memory? It happens to me every now and then. The pungent, thick odor of gasoline as I pass a giant, rumbling truck. Or the smokey fumes of charcoal from flames of an ignited fire. These are the smells that transport me back to India.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been traveling to India with my family to visit our relatives and spend time in my parents’ sacred homeland. It’s been a true blessing to be able to walk the paths of my mother’s childhood in Lucknow and my father’s school days in Aligarh and Sirsi (U.P., India). We would go almost yearly when we were children, and then gradually our trips were spaced out to every couple of years as we grew older and our studies became more serious.
But now and again, a longing emerges somewhere deep inside of me. A desire to walk those streets again, to climb up to the rooftops and feel the cool breeze carrying so many smells that I couldn’t possibly name them all. India will always hold a special place in my heart.
What do I miss most about India?
I do believe you can experience “home” in more than one place, and it is difficult for me to describe everything in words. But here I will attempt to list a few things that I miss the most about India.
- The Hospitality. Anyone who is from India or knows someone from India will know that for Indians, their guests hold a very prestigious position. Whenever I visited India, doesn’t matter who I stayed with or whose home I visited, I was always treated special and with so much warmth and love. A girl can get used to that kind of spoilage!
- The Chai. Speaking of hospitality (see number 1), I was constantly offered chai. Chai is the center of everything. All conversations begin and end with a cup of tea. It is offered round the clock, all day, at any time of day and it is delicious.
- The food!!! I didn’t start to really enjoy the food in India until I got older, because eating the local food meant stomach problems, diarrhea, vomiting, etc. But when I was able to eat a meal at a restaurant without falling terribly ill, it was the most amazing experience. I’m lucky enough to have lots of family who took me to the best local eateries, with such flavorful, enticing dishes that always leave me wanting more. Not to mention, the love with which the home-cooked meals are prepared. There’s just nothing like it.
- The Sounds. This is something I truly, truly miss. Living here in the calm suburbs of New Jersey, we are void of sounds and street noise, especially during the night. But in India, the sounds are what defines it. The sharpness of the cat calls in the darkness of the night, and the hollering of street vendors. The calls to prayer from ten different loud speakers of ten different Mosques, that mesh into one muddled wailing, drowning out everything else. The eclectic beeps of car horns, motorcycles and scooters. Every single time I arrive there, I am amazed at how I’m able to sleep through all of these noises.
- The Rooftops. India is known for its accessible rooftops, that connect one house to the next and the next, like one elongated series of lego homes, stretching out through an entire alley. The beauty of these rooftops is just something else. It was my favorite place to be as a child, and nothing has changed. I would run up the steps, feeling the roughness of the brick walls as I climbed excitedly to the top. I would look around, absorbing all of the surroundings. Little children running about in a neighbor’s rooftop, flying kites. And down below, the hole in the wall shopkeepers making their sales and the small crowds of people chatting and chewing paan (beatle leaf).I guess the rooftops were more of a symbol, a window to this other universe we had come to. A place where I could go unnoticed and observe everything, take it all in and imprint it to memory.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to visit again, but I wholeheartedly wish to take my children to the same places that I grew up in. Though I never lived in India, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t experience childhood there. Therefore I grew up there too. So many priceless lessons were learned there. I yearn to share memories there with my own girls one day, god willing.
Have you ever missed a place so much that you dream of it or can be transported there at times? Would love to hear about it in the comments!