after twentyfour hours of silence and fasting on my part -- and no one else's -- relegated by some kind of luck to a chilly AC compartment, i'm finally Thrown. back into contact with myself, my past, my family, my culture: the gujarati uncle.
three months and countless coconuts into my recessional memory and, no, my dear, they are exactly the same.
[ all translations are my own ]
"so, you don't have much happiness in talking?" as we are making our beds. "umm, i don't know much words"
everything comes to mind in malayalam. i need to let go. of that which i never had. i'm translating their gujarati into malayalam to understand it, filling in the gaps in my knowledge of each langauge with wild fantasy.
my confusion, obstinacy, and reluctance to be traveling so far northward, so fast, and so far from my pastured jungle are lost on the trio of moustached uncles. they laugh and i fall asleep to typical mercantile conversation of capital investment, rent extract, interest rates and commodities prices. i am born to be a merchant, a peddler, a middleman. to travel across deserts in search of damascan steel. to swap futures options of corn and soybean, sight unseen. it's all been written in character sets i've stopped trying to decipher. all of it.
by the morning we had crossed the border. i dreamt violently of mycology and cocktails, interminable millipodic spaceship teepees and the peace of cancerous growth. i could face them. homecoming is an infinite series. first the imaginary border shifting my imaginary comprehension of indiankind's imaginary tounges. then these three unknown men, to each other equal as to me, full of gruff and caring words, ordering eachother to tuck away their shoes (before the chaiman cometh) and move eachother's bags (where the much anticipated breakfast would be stored). their terse tone becomes harsh and forceful in english, losing the sweetness of dharmic duty in rough programmatic translation. if you could translate all the information, the tonal semantics, it would be closer to "oh dearest brother upon this wild and luxuriant planet, dosoever move the duffel bag of your humble servant so our well-coiffed companion may lower the intermediate bunk" than "now, you move my bag". te juro.
they drank from my water bottle without asking -- water is a public good -- and i loved them for it. overcoming the manliness of it, the resemblance towards my estranged father, the habitual rawness and angularity i immediately feel upon facing a middle-aged indian man. a future self, as it were.
they want to know my work, from where i'm coming and to where i'm going, my qualifications, how much money i can make, how much my land cost and how big is my house. and nothing else. they are not concerned with my opinions on daniel pinchback's latest book nor how much of ken wilber's true insight comes straight out of sri aurobindo. they certainly aren't interested in post-capitalism, reusable plates, sexual liberation, or gandhi.
they ask --- obviously joking, they are the princes in paradise -- if i can take them with me, to amerika. but they really want to know my caste.
"ah yes", a smiling approval i always get when revealing i'm "vaishnavaya" and my grandfather lives in ambavadi (a middleclass hindu suburb. the same questions and the same answers, the words flood back to me. i've played this part so many times before and seldom with such relish.
anything i attempt to communicate outside their pointed queries is ignored or forgotten. i am back in gujarat. i am not the director. i cannot shape the discussion. this not a language, country, or culture where i have that kind of Power.
Inevitably, it is breakfast. in a miracle of charismatic power -- perhaps the only testament to what i've learned in nine months (feels like ninety) in the hypercontinent -- i successfully avoid being purchased tea. now, at the end of the long voyage, when i could use some sugar and spice and milky nicety, i deny it.
i accept freshdates from uncle's farm. i don't ask how big it is or how many laborers he owns or how much he pays them or what the minimum daily wage rate is. the dates are cruncy, slightly astringent, and excellent. i know better, now. there is nothing to make me happier than fresh organic fruit, save frisbees and dolphins. and how could they know?
they ask about my pants, all at once, the three of them. i mumble something about gandhi and kadhi, my own design, to justify the mixedup patterns and mango stains. the alugh and pronounce gandhi in the country dialect, "gone-dhi", and i love them for it. there's a short -- perhaps obligatory, im beginning to suspect -- diversion into how nobody cares anymore, obviously including themselves.
"you know, my parent are in USA but my mom is coming back. _see_. it's not like television there. she's been there 35 years and now she's coming back, to live in india." this decision -- to quit her job and move back to india, to take care of her father, was a joy and a revelation to me. my mom unplugging from the matrix. to uncle #2 it's totally self-evident. "yes of course. she must have made a lot of money. maybe 10 crores? naturally she'll come back" he's only thinking, "35 years, what took her so long?"
two divorces. but i dont say that. and a son who failed her every expectations. but i dont say that either.
uncle #3 opens the tub of thepla. thepla is my favorite gujarati cooked food. it's a rotli with fresh fenugreek leaves (methi) and spices rolled into the dough, cooked with oil until firm but pliable. spicy and indepedent of condiment. the ultimate train food. i eat one and note it's enough. im made to eat another and note its something More than enough. but, of course, we must finish the tupper. "oh, thank you, but i have to eat breakfast at my grandfathers! and ahmedabad is only twenty minutes away!".
laughter all around dipping into vague threats. dont worry about your fucking grandfather kid. if you dont eat these greasy floured leaves youll join the rest of those young revolutionaries under the tracks of the 6801. if you know what i mean.
its hard to tell the fantasy from the hallcuination from the weirdness of india so i ended up eating three more halves just to be sure. we're finished and i note it's quite more than enough, or even healthy, as we reach ahmedabad. "you've arrived". thanks. i gather my bags.
"no mobile phone?" no. "because gandhi didnt have one?" yes. or i lost mine in sri lanka. i smile, shake their hands, and leave to the tune to the tune of what went wrong with gandhi and india in general. i've heard it mostly before, senility and stubborness in old age, appointing nehru instead of sardar patel, etc....