Thank You, India
A few weeks ago, my family (in the United States) got word from my family (in India) that something terrible had happened.
A cousin of mine, whom I call, Mukesh Bhaiya (Bhaiya means brother), had passed away.
His death was a tragic one. He was a cameraman for a news crew and on the way back from an assignment, the car which he was traveling in (along with a reporter and driver) was in a terrible, terrible accident.
He left behind a wife and a one year old son.
Two weeks later, my parents called me to tell me that another uncle of mine in India had also passed away.
My parents did not cry as they told me the news on the phone. But I could tell that they were devastated by the loss. The distance. The memories.
I didn’t cry either.
Not because I’m not sad. I am terribly, terribly sad.
It’s more because I don’t feel like I have the right to cry.
In many ways, I feel like I have let my family in India down.
Actually, it’s not something I feel, it’s something I know.
I have cousins I have not seen in years. However, some of my happiest childhood memories were spent with them during my summers in India.
I have aunts and uncles who I ran to with open arms as a child, who showered me with love and candy and sunshine and laughter.
But I can’t remember their faces anymore.
I have family in India, who don’t have “much” if you just consider possessions. My family is from the Northern villages of the state of Bihar, which is known to be one of the poorest areas of India.
Which, I guess you can imagine, says something.
However, they would give you the shirt off their backs if you went into their homes. They would feed you food that would not be easy to afford for them, but they would do it with joy and love and complete and utter affection.
Even if it meant they might have to go without something later that week, to give you something they could be proud of today.
My sister, her husband and my niece recently came back from a trip to India. They had a whirlwind trip, but they made an effort to see ALL of the family, which means a whole lot of travel and a lot more hecticness.
But my sister thought it was important. She wanted to make the time.
To make the effort.
As she told me about how everyone was, emotions swept through me and clenched my heart tighter than I knew possible.
How was Lal Didi? I asked.
Did you get a chance to see Hema and Reshma? Did you see Mala? Are they still as beautiful as I remember? The tears had started to fall.
What about Nidhi? Is she going to college? She was always so smart!
My sister answered all of my questions. I could tell how much the trip had meant to her too. She answered as I asked about everyone I could think of. What were their children like? Were they happy?
She told me that she had never laughed harder. That she forgot how much joy our family had in them.
That she laughed and laughed and they laughed and laughed and she will never, ever forget that sound of their laughter.
I have never forgotten the sound of their laughter.
My children will know where my parents come from. They will know their distant aunts and uncles. Maybe not today, but I have to do this, not just for me, but for them.
They will understand the opportunities that they have. That perhaps their own cousins have never had.
They will understand what it means to have plentiful food, heat and air conditioning.
They will understand what it means to love with such openness and joy that it could make your heart break.
I can’t wait to take them to India. It is one of the strongest legacies I can give them.
To my family in India – you may be far, but I will never, ever forget you.
You are a part of me. You are a part of my children.
I am humbled. And I will see you soon.