A guest with an extended Indian family

A trip to the country

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We follow the invitation of our Indian friends and accompany them to the Sankranthi Festival in their home village on India's east coast. Although we don't know what to expect, we agree. And we don't regret it.

When I wake up we are standing on the side of the road. Siva sleeps in the driver's seat, Rekha and Alekhya talk quietly. Sebastian is sleeping next to me. "What happend?" I ask Rekha. "Siva got very tired. He needed to sleep. Otherwise it's so dangerous. ”I agree with her. Driving through the East Indies on small, narrow country roads in the middle of the night isn't one of the best ideas anyway. If the driver is so tired that he almost falls asleep while driving, a break is actually the best decision.

Rekha and Alekhya continue to discuss quietly. Through their many English words, I roughly understand what it is about, even though they are actually speaking in Telugu, the regional >

"You have to adjust"

Do you live in a slum? In my mind's eye, pictures of small crates with corrugated iron or plastic tarpaulin roofs appear, which are closely packed directly on the train tracks. We have seen such dwellings over and over again in recent weeks from the train. I can hardly imagine Rekha's relatives living like this, but when she says it? Or what else is meant by "slum"?

We drive concentrated through the dark, deserted streets, Rekha on a long-term phone call with her uncle, who explains the way to her relatives. The streets are getting narrower, the houses are getting smaller. But it doesn't look like a slum to me here.

Suddenly we stop. We are here? I'm relieved. This is not a slum. We are in a normal, nice residential area. The houses are brick and have two floors. Flowers stand on window ledges and in front of the house entrances. One of the doors opens and a man emerges smiling. Rekha and he greet each other, Siva and Alekhya keep a little distance and we also watch the scene. But soon we will be introduced. "Lee, Sebastian, this is my uncle!" Smiling, we shake his hand and thank you for letting us sleep with him.

The house, as we quickly discover, is actually a little cramped. There is a tiny entrance area that also seems to serve as an office for the uncle. This is followed by the family's only living room, on the left hand side there is a large double bed on which three small children sleep in their normal clothes. There are thin mattresses on the floor, but the five or so adults are awake. All women wear sari, they must have gone to sleep in it. We are both offered the bed, the others want to set up a mattress camp on the floor. But the room does not offer enough space for so many people lying down. We refuse.

Fortunately, we packed our air mattresses and sleeping bags for this excursion and luckily Rekha and Siva were able to convince themselves of their convenience in advance. Because this time they agree faster than we say that we will sleep on the floor in the anteroom, into which our mats just fit. The family watches us with interest as we prepare our sleeping place and after a short visit to the rustic squat toilet, we go to bed. There is also peace in the next room and I see through the open door that Rekha, Siva and Alekhya are now sharing the large bed while the family is lying on the thin mattresses on the floor.

The next day starts early. “We can't stay too long, otherwise they have to offer us breakfast”, Rekha greets us at seven in the morning. After all, we were able to sleep longer than we thought, because last night it was said that we would continue at 5 o'clock. Since we only fell asleep around 2 a.m., Sebastian and I are glad that things turned out differently.

We pack our things in the car, sip the cup of chai we are offered and say goodbye. The dew of the night lies over the green meadows and thick fog still wafts over the fields. We are back on the street and are approaching Bhimavaram and Rekha's family, with whom we are invited for the coming days.

Sankranthi - from a large Indian family, cockfighting and henna

"Rekha! Siva! Leo! Sebastian! Finally you arrived! ”We are now turning into a small parking lot, and Swathi and Vijay are already in front of us. We greet each other enthusiastically because it is thanks to these two that we are here today at all. Ten days ago we met the couple by chance in Hyderabad and were immediately sympathetic. As talented artists, they gave us access to a completely different India and invited us to the Krishnakriti Art and Culture Festival, which happened to happen in Hyderabad at our time. They said goodbye to Sankranthi, but we weren't sure yet. Because our farm stay was planned and we didn't want to commit ourselves yet.

But now we have come here with Rekha, Vijay's sister, and are very excited to see what awaits us in the coming days.

"First we'll go to my grandma's house," says Rekha. We walk through an alley and turn into the small courtyard of Grandmother's house. Certainly 20 people are already waiting and looking at us expectantly. After a bit of pushing and pulling everyone finds room, now Sebastian and I stand on one side of the courtyard and the family face us.

What is expected from us? A small, old woman is already approaching us - Rekhas and Vijay's grandma? In her hand she holds a bronze bowl with rice and red powder. We get a red dot between the eyebrows, they throw the rice over us. At the end of the greeting, she lights three small "stones" and wags the smoke that forms in our faces. Fortunately, on the way there we bought a beautiful flower that we can now hand over to the old lady. Your favorite flower, as Rekha let us know in advance.

The mood is positive, everyone is smiling. When the grandmother has finished her ceremony, Swathi approaches us and introduces us to those present. Would we take a picture with them? Sure, we like to do that. The next few minutes, different family constellations line up next to us: the children of the family. All uncles. The cousins. An uncle with his family. We lose track of who is who again, but it doesn't matter. At some point our smile is frozen and we are happy when the photo session is declared over.

For breakfast - it is still very early - we are given the South Indian specialty Idli. I don't know what that is, but it tastes good. I later read on Wikipedia:

“Idli is a white, steamed, flat-round cake made from fermented dough based on green beans and rice. They have a soft, sponge-like consistency and a sour taste. Idli are often eaten as breakfast and traditionally served with chutney, sambar and vada, a deep-fried ring made from a similar dough. ”

We don't have much time to relax, because the main event of Makar Sankranthi , the great Hindu festival, which, in addition to its importance as a kind of Thanksgiving, is also a festival for the victory of good over evil, is coming: cockfighting!

"Actually, cock fights are not allowed anymore," Swathi explains as we walk to the small arena. "But it's an old tradition here and politicians fear that they will loose the next elections, if they don't allow cock fights during Sankranthi." I would like to know from her whether she likes to watch them. She says no. Thanks to us two special guests, there are almost as many female spectators at this cockfighting as never before, she explains with a laugh. Cockfighting would be something for the men who are watching the cruel spectacle intently. It is also about a lot of money, because the tended and well-kept fighting cocks are bet. Only for this day they were bred and fed with expensive almonds, because the fight goes on until there is a clear winner. In other words, the fight continues until one of the roosters is dead. No wonder that there are all kinds of dishes with chicken on Sankranthi.

I don't know if I really want to see that. But the expectations of those around us are high, so we promise to watch a fight. Plastic chairs are brought in especially for us, although we would have preferred to stand behind the protective wooden fence. Sebastian refuses to sit inside the combat area, but I sit on the chairs with Swathi, Vijay, Rekha, Siva and the other relatives.

About ten men come in with their roosters, what huge animals! Rekha is very keen on hugging you and poses with him for photos. While the men are holding their cocks tightly, another man carries his cock close to the others. I suspect it is supposed to increase the level of aggression of the animals, because most of them put up their neck feathers like a comb.

At the same time, I let Swathi explain how cockfighting works. Only now do I understand that the fighting roosters get two sharp blades tied to the right leg. What a cruel tradition! I am nervous. What can we expect?

There are now only two men in the small arena, each with a tap on their arms. The number of spectators has grown significantly, except for Rekha and her family, I don't see any other women. The tension in the air is transferred to me, my heart starts pounding loudly. The referee gives the signal, the men release their taps. The crowd starts screaming, cheering on the roosters. These revolve around with raised neck feathers, no longer happens. The crowd is getting impatient. The first cock starts its attack and jumps on the other. Picking and waving his blade, he attacks his opponent. I close my eyes.

The crowd is out of control and comes so close to the taps that the referee stops the fight. The two men take their cocks in their arms, the referee tries with a lot of shouting to keep things tidy. But the spectators themselves no longer seem to be completely in control of their senses and the referee has no choice but to aim a large whip at her feet stuck in sandals. They jump back without being hit. When the fighting area is finally free, it is the turn of the roosters again. Fortunately, it happens quickly, one of the two lands a targeted blow and the other tap seems to be hit. When he falls to the ground, a red mass oozes from his beak, I have to close my eyes and still feel a gag reflex. Get out of here, but quickly!

Our compulsory fight is over after about five minutes, finally we can go. Swathi gratefully joins Sebastian and me, we leave the small arena quickly. Rekha and her family stay seated and watch other fights, but this one is enough for us for the rest of our lives. Other countries other manners. But I personally can't get anything out of it.

We take a break and take an afternoon nap. The past night was very short and the heat hits our cycle. In the afternoon we are invited to drive to the nearby home village of Rekhas and Vijay's father, where the two grew up. Although we are shown here as the star guests, have to be ready for some photos and are allowed to shake many hands, it is a nice trip. The village is even smaller than Bhimavaram, the people are friendly and we can have a great time with Swathi, Vijay, Rekha and Siva.

"When I was a small girl, Vijay and I had to wash our clothes here in this river", Rekha shows us her previous washing place, where women are still sitting and hitting their clothes on the stone. "On this side of the river you find the houses of Brahmin people. Over there are the houses of the lower casts. And here lives the Indian 'middle class'. ”, She explains to us. I wonder with interest how the caste system still plays a role in today's life. A very big role, she and Alekhya answer as if from one mouth.

Although the caste system is officially abolished, they feel it especially when it comes to marriage. It is still married within the caste, nobody wants to get worse. But especially in the villages they still experience the influence, if not as dramatically. They used to say that an "untouchable", a member of the lowest caste, was not even allowed to cast his shadow on a Brahmin, a member of the highest caste, without polluting him. The use of a common fountain was unthinkable, the people lived at different ends of the village in order to have as few points of contact as possible. Today in the cities, they think, it is no longer so strict. Nevertheless, the caste system, the role of women in India and social status are their issues, I quickly notice that.

In the evening, the young people of the family and some young-at-heart older people meet in the apartment, where we too can set up our sleeping quarters. Playing together and finally it is up to Sebastian to entertain the audience with his card player tricks. The audience is probably the best you can ask for, because they follow all the tricks with enthusiasm and don't give up guessing, thinking and trying until they have revealed the trick and can demonstrate it themselves.

After a short night, Rekha, Siva and Vijay drive us to the bus station the next morning. While they will later go to Hyderabad to spend a few more days, we are invited to wait for them in Rekha's and Siva's apartment in the port city of Vizag. quasi. House sitting, so to speak . After these days full of impressions, it is wonderful for us to live for a week in a real home at our own pace before we start our last stage in India to Calcutta.

  1. Great post! I always find it exciting to see the great places around the world. Most of the time it is the places that are real insider tips and where it is not just teeming with tourists. India in particular has so much to offer in terms of landscape and culture. Three years ago I was also in India and was just thrilled! I also plan to go there again. Maybe it will work again in two years, because next year we will go somewhere else, namely to a hotel in Schenna

    • Hi Felix,

      we are happy if you like the report!
      Yes, India is a huge country and has so much to offer. Everyone will probably find a spot somewhere that they really like.
      We keep our fingers crossed that it will soon be possible for you to travel to India again!
      Best wishes
      Leo Sebastian

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