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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mallapally -- Giving without end

It’s Saturday night and I’m in Allepey. A coastal village in Kerala, that’s famous for the ‘backwaters’ (another name for canals). I arrived this afternoon after spending 3 days in a tiny village called Mallapally, with a former ‘teacher-friend’ Riya.

I find it hard to fathom how intense the days have been, ever since leaving Chennai on Tuesday afternoon. The 16 hour bus journey was a ‘breeze’ by the way, even though it was lashing for a few hours (and because the windows wouldn’t shut properly, we were getting a little… wet and rained-on for a while). Either way, it was nice to be moving away from a busy city. I only realized just how tiring the city pace can be, once I stopped dead in my tracks when I reached Riya’s house on Wednesday morning. Suddenly it was peace and quiet surrounding the cute little lilac house that was standing on top of a hill, with 8 family members inside, making it into a cosy home. There were her parents, grandmother, brother, sister-in-law, nephew, her own husband (they’re only newly wed) and Riya herself.

Even though it wasn’t my first visit, I was overwhelmed by the welcome I received. Really, it was so… MUCH. I never realized the impact my turning-up would have on the whole family. Really, I was quite shocked. They did everything for me. And if I’d have let them, they’d have done more… if I’d have asked them to wipe my backside (sorry for the details), they’d all have jumped at once to help!

I’m inclined to compare this experience with the experiences I’ve had in Jayanthis’ home. But that’s impossible. Just because they both are good friends of mine, and they both live with their families, and they’re both Indian, doesn’t mean to say that the experiences would be in any way shape or form similar to each other. They’re all different people, from different states, speaking different languages, following different religions and beliefs, in different homely set-ups, with different aspirations in life and appreciating different ways of living. However, one similarity there is: Indian hospitality never ceases to amaze me. Wouw… is all I can say…

Both Jayanthis and Riyas family gave me more than I could ever have asked for; a place to rest, a place to refuel, a place to experience India up close and personal (rather than from a distance… which is what happens in the tourist spots)… They both have offered me a long term home to be apart of, they wished for me to live-in with them. This was, and still is, huge to me… But they have no clue, no matter how often I tell them. They see it as nothing… they only want to give me more and will take nothing from me at all… Never can I part with anything, and all I hear when I try to give, is that my presence is worth more than anything else. Whether this is spoken in such words or not, it seems to be the only explanation and the only ‘thing’ I actually DO: just being there is more than enough… It can be a little frustrating at times; never letting ME show THEM my OWN appreciation for the fact that they’ve opened up their homes to me. Instead, it’s the other way around… they show me their appreciation for me being there, by giving to me…!!!! What a crazy world this is!

Either ways, back to Riyas house. I was definitely THERE, in their home, for 3 full days. And the entire family and village knew about it! When I say family, I don’t mean just the sister, brother, father, mother… Nope, I mean the whole entire family tree – that branched out in directions I never knew existed. At one stage I felt like I was trying to solve riddles, when I was being introduced to, for example, the child of the wife of the brother of her sister-in-laws mother (who just so happens to be married to her neighbours’ second cousin). How that would work? I haven’t got a clue… It’s just shows how close-knit AND extended their family is. However, even though it’s so extensive, they’re STILL all living within a 5km radius of the little lilac home, standing on top of a hill with coconut and banana trees all around… It was so funny. Quite tiring too, I must admit. Everyone wanted a piece of me, so I kept on giving and in return they kept on feeding me their Indian dishes.

And, just a brief note on the Indian food: At this point, the richness of the Indian food is quite – powerful and has been the cause of harsh and painful indigestion. I’d also like to vent, while I’m on this topic - that every time I’m in Kerala, it seems to happen that my body odour changes…I start to smell of the same ‘scent’ that I get whiffs of when I’m on an overcrowded bus and the ladies are bearing their armpits, as they hold-on to the railing for dear life… It’s not so much a bad smell, it’s just very distinct and one I’ve only every smelt from the ladies in Kerala (not that I’ve been travelling much elsewhere in India, but in Chennai I’d never smell it…) It seems to be a mix of…coconut (quite yummy), but mixed with spice and something… sour… !!?? It’s very strange… When I started smelling if off me, for the first time in the ashram… I was quite… ALARMED… But I heard from other female travellers that they had the same ‘problem’. That was a little relieving and all the more reason to stock up on some more body spray and perfumed powder (an Indian way to ‘naturally’ conceal odours that don’t make us smile!). I guess it’s only normal for India to be SEEPING THROUGH MY VERY POURS… at this stage of my travels. Hummm… Not too sure what to make of that! Anyhow, I’ll be taking to western food for a few days I reckon… only for breakfast and lunch though… cause for dinner I’ll still prefer Indian to western. On that note, I’d also like to add how much of a difference I felt, when one day last week I had some western takeaway; Italian to be precise… And I couldn’t believe how little I enjoyed it and how unwholesome it felt. So, still with the indigestion and the scent, I’ll give a thumbs-up to Indian dishes.

Okay, getting a little side-tracked… Back to what I was saying about the family… It was all very overwhelming in many ways… their ‘giving’ knows no limits… And when I was forced to say ‘no’– by feeling my own limits - it was like I was rejecting their hospitality, their home, their care. So I had to speak with them about it. Or, at least I sat down with Riya and her mom, and Riya translated what I was trying to say: just because I couldn’t take absolutely everything everybody was offering me, it didn’t mean to say I wasn’t appreciating everything they were doing and giving me. They understood my concern, and still her mom smiled that big white smile, and offered for me to stay as long as I wanted whilst holding a plate of fried rice balls stuffed with sweet fruits and coconut…

What did I do? I returned a smile and stuck my ground… saying that they’ve done too much already and that I needed to keep ‘moving things along’. It would have been too easy for me to have stayed there, being looked after like that… One day could’ve easily slipped into the other and another – without nothing really happening. So I got this urge on day 2 (Thursday) to get the next step into action… the teaching! I needed to speed things along…

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