In January, when I started out on this journey, I did not realize how important family and new friends would be. In India, blood defines relationships. Frequently, friends and neighbors become family because of circumstances like marriage to a relative or for those who are abroad, shared experiences in India. This last bit is quite important for those who encounter these neighbors abroad. The shared experiences of childhood, school, or even military time (in my father’s case) become valuable connections as we age.
During my time here, I have visited many family members, some who I knew before and others I met for the first time. With my parents, I have attended two funerals, a prayer for someone who passed away in our church, and a wedding. I have also visited the graves of my grandparents, great-grandparents, great-aunts, and great-uncles. With each visit, I ask for the connection to my past, if any. Sometimes it’s only my parents’ connection that brought us to the visit.
When given the connection, occasionally, I can recall visits from my early childhood. If I do remember, it might be a facet of the house or the land that sticks out the most for me. Sometimes, the faces are very familiar but I cannot place the exact relation. These are particularly meaningful memories for me and when a relative also remembers me from that time, it’s nice to hear that I am still the same as I was when I was child.
I am so glad I came to India for a prolonged stay. I used to think I had a small family. Now, I recognize my large family and I know many of them. Thanks to WhatsApp and Facebook, I will remain in touch with most of them too even after I return to the U.S. For most of my family, they know each other well even if they don’t see other regularly. For me, I met so many of them for the first time or, for some, for first time as an adult. Usually, past trips to India were a blur with a barrage of relatives without a manual to identify who’s who and how they are related to me. Now, I have faces, names, and new memories to catalog from this trip. With technology, I will remain in contact with quite a few no matter where my travels will take me. And my family will continue to grow.