I am taking part in this year's Blogging from A to Z Challenge. This is my submission for I ...
India was always home - I'd learned Urdu before I learned English - and my father continued to speak or understand Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, with a little Punjabi and Tamil thrown in for good measure, for years after we returned to live in England. All my family were born there, grandparents included, so my British nationality was a matter of naturalisation and being able to prove my right to it back through generations of the paternal line. I can't remember how far back we had to go, as my father's family had long been 'servants of the crown' in one way or another.
Many of my strongest memories relate to colour - the Gulmahore trees and huge cannas in my grandparents' grounds, marigold flowers threaded into garlands for all kinds of celebrations, saffron robes worn by Buddhist monks, the brightest of the bright rainbow coloured silk saris - embelleshed with sequins and beads till they almost blind you in the sunshine. Images like watching women having their hands and lower arms being covered in beautiful henna drawings for a special occasion, the bright red bindi being smudged in the centre of a forehead, peacocks strutting their stuff in gardens, despite my knowing that most superstitious indians would not allow a single feather to be displayed in their homes. The craziness of the festival of Holi, when people roamed the streets, drinking and chucking coloured powder-paint over one another. The peace and beauty of Diwali where even the poorest displays a light and where the better off line every wall, roof line and window sill with diwali oil lamps lit long into the night.
Whilst saris are quite gorgeous, I always looked on in envy at those women who wore the salwar kameez. The freedom and ease of wearing trousers instead of flowing skirts, whilst using beautiful, highly coloured and decorated materials for the long tunic, seemed to me the perfect compromise between beauty and practicality. The look was always finished off with a dupatta draped loosely around their shoulders, so casually at hand to cover their heads when the occasion called for it. They looked so comfortable and so modern.
Then there's the food ... Strangely, whilst I love spices, I'm not a lover of lots of chilli. No, the food stuffs I remember are tamarind: those dark brown pods which look like long gnarled fingers and are filled with that wonderful rich tangy goo. That and the mangoes: eaten young and green, fresh off the tree in my grandmother's garden, sliced up and dipped into salt so that you couldn't help but suck your cheeks in as you ate - or a ripe mango, cut up so you could eat the outer cheeks politely with a spoon, whilst children were given the seed to suck clean as the juice dripped all over us. Heaven!
That's before we start on the art: the decidedly eye-opening temple sculptures that caused us children to titter as our parents sought to divert us, the strangly flat moghul paintings, the quite breathtaking decorative carvings on the Taj Mahal, the depictions of the various gods - terrifying and red tongued Kali, lovely and multi-limbed Lakshmi, brave and blue Vishnu and my personal favourite Ganesh, the elephant god. Every home has a little altar to their own personal god, or to that god which was known to grant whatever it was they sought. I loved the smell of the incense and the flowers, the ting of the the tiny cymbal-like bells, the quiet hum as puja was done.
Sadly there's that other India - the one with the caste system, with unbelievable poverty, with corruption, where life is far too cheap. But today - just for today - I wanted to tell you about the India I love and why I miss it with every fibre of my being.
Is there another country that you love as home - or as a second home?