After some negotiating, we arranged to stay with a family during our time in Jaipur, India. Actually, I talked the owner of Elefantastic into extending what is normally a lunch at his family home into a few nights of staying with his family.
They had moved into a new home about a year and a half ago and had rooms they had not really started to use yet. Rahul lives there with his wife and two young daughters (16 months and 3 years old), his sister Ruby and his parents. There is a main living area made up of two large rooms, a kitchen about the size of ours in Ashland (maybe 10 foot by 20 foot) and a bathroom. Off of the main rooms there are what look like two bedrooms but actually they are what could be two small one bedroom apartments (kitchenette space, bathroom and entrance). Upstairs was three rooms, a bathroom and another kitchenette space. Up on the roof was a huge open space that had a shed and another room. When I asked Rahul what they use that space for he had to ask his mother what I was talking about because in the time they have lived there he has only been up once or twice he said.
His daily life is pretty interesting. He the fifth generation of an elephant training family and he and his father both work out at Elefantastic (a fantastic experience center where you meet, feed, paint, wash and ride your elephant that they have either raised or rescued). We saw Rahul out at the elephant farm where he is clearly in charge but usually very casual. But when Kate scraped her ankle on the elephant ramp (because the elephant leans in to the loading ramp too fast) you could tell by the way everyone jumped that his quiet wrath was to be avoided. Kate is a very tough 12 year old and it was a large painful scrape but no blood, so no foul. We had told this to the first worker who had asked about it. But when Rahul saw it and he asked the worker who was with us in Hindi it didn’t matter what we said, people started running for the first aide kit and it was Rahul on the ground cleaning Kate’s scrape and putting on a balm with his hands while everyone else stood at the ready. Back at the house, when we got up to eat about 7:30 Rahul’s mother would have been up since 5:30 (when the Muslim neighbors fire up the prayer bells) and Rahul would be asleep in the living room on a large futon. His daughters would venture over to wake him up but the women would keep them at bay. He would wake up around 8:00 or 8:30 and jump on his email doing business from his bed. His wife brings him his clothes and his mother brings him some breakfast. He goes to the elephant farm until 7pm when he then goes to his favorite chai tea stop to talk with friends and associates until about 10pm. When he gets home his mother makes another round of dinner for him (first for us about 7, then for the rest of the family around 8:30 or 9).
This seems to be a good time to share a saying our guide from Delhi told me when Judi and Kate were out of earshot. He said, “do you know what we believe is heaven?” Thinking that this was going to be deep Hindu wisdom I sagely focus my attention and said, “no.” He says, “Heaven is an Indian wife (you know, who does what you ask her to do), a German car, Chinese food and an American salary.” I nod. “Do you know what we say is hell?” I just shake my head. “An Indian salary, German food, a Chinese car and an American wife. Haaaaaa ha ha….” Judi thought it was funny too when I told her later!
Kate became part of the family working in the kitchen as best as they would allow. Ruby (23 years old) was like an instant older sister and the last night we were there Kate slept down in Ruby’s room with her. She loved tending to the little girls, never tiring of following them and playing with them. The mom even took Kate on a milk run where they set out with the metal can in hand and went down to the corner milk store – and by this I mean they waited and watched while the woman milked the water buffalo in front of them right in to the can. And that is the secret to real Indian chai.
Alan says: It was the best part of India for me. I loved the voice of little ones in a home, particularly when the three year old would ask me to do something but would always say, “Sir, stand!” or “Sir, no! sit.” You could feel the bond of the whole family and the ever steady hand of the mother. When I asked Rahul if there was ever conflict with a whole family living under one roof he said, “no sir, it is easy when everyone knows who is the boss. First my mother, then me. That makes it easy.”
Judi says: I absolutely loved the days at Rahul’s house. We had a great amount of space and were made to feel right at home. Our trip included a cooking lesson, taught by Rahul’s mom, for Kate and I. I was ready to grab my notepad when I realized that Rahul’s mom cooks with no recipe…by feel…with a “pinch of this” and a “pinch of that.” Her food was amazing. I realized that I had to pick a simple dish or drink and just ask her to let me watch her do it more than once. When we get home, I plan to try to make her chai and her pumpkin curry. I really enjoyed talking with Ruby who is working on her master’s degree in math. She will be a teacher at the University. I loved her drive and passion…brother Rahul was trying to get her to come work for him (she would be an amazing asset) but she has her own dreams. I told her I really hoped she would follow her own dream. I will never forget the amazing hospitality of the family…to make us feel at home, cook for us, clean up after us, and care for us when one of us was feeling a bit under. I never felt like I was imposing or in the way. I felt like they were glad we were there. Kate and I would try to help with dishes, cooking, clearing dishes, etc. but we usually got completely turned down. Kate used her sweet charm and a bit of strong determination and Rahul’s mom eventually would let her help…and then turn to me and tell me what a good daughter I had. I agree with Alan…for me, time with this family in their home was the best part of India.
Kate says: It was wonderful to be around the family. The mother was really nice and I thought it was nice of her to try and speak english with us. She taught me how to make Indian chai. The two little girls were fun – one reminded me of myself when I was little (but I was better at listening to my parents) and the one year old was fun to play with. Ruby was like an older sister for the few days I was there – she did Henna on both my hands and talked with me about her life (and her english was really good). Going to get milk with the mother was an adventure. The lady milked the water buffalo by hand while the three year old ran around trying to pick a baby goat that didn’t want to be held. The mother (really the grandmother in the home) got us ice cream and wanted me to throw the wrapper on the ground (“it’s ok, you’re in India”) but I couldn’t do it for the longest time but eventually she got me to throw it on a pile that would be burned the next day. The three year old would run around asking me to do things by saying, “Ma’am…” and then tell me what she wanted me to do.
John says: It was a cool experience to stay with the family in their house. I really felt welcomed and they trusted us. They were all super nice. I loved the food. They made sure we had food we liked each day. The three year old told everyone what to do and where to go – stand up or not, etc. The beds were firm (Alan adds – they were rock solid!). It was a quiet place after all the honking and noise of India everywhere else.
It was all a wonderful, real, grounding experience. It took us all a few days to deal with the squat toilet but we all figured out how to balance, rinse it out and throw your toilet paper in a waste paper basket (not down the hole). It was a challenge since we all fought a bit if illness while there but we did it. We all left feeling like this was what we had been looking to see, looking to find, looking to experience in India. It let us see past the trash and the noise and the craziness and see into the hearts of these amazingly hard working people. We got to share meals and had the time to talk about marriage and the future. We got to connect with just regular people and when you travel as much as we are, we realized that now more than ever, that connection with other people is essential. And guess what, they are basically just like us and we loved it.