Gaam (village) life is quite different in 2011 than when my parents labored in modesty in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The silence of locked homes is louder than the grunting of wild bulls in the streets. A walk through the village with Manumama (my mom's uncle...Ba's yougest brother) is littered with descriptions such as "...and they are in America...and they are in England...and America...America...and they are back from America for three months...". Forty years since the beginning of an exodus of legal Indian emigrants has brought growth back to the rural areas of Gujarat. For these young laborers sought opportunity in a far away land and now rejoicing in the fruits of their American diligence, they have returned over the last decade to build new homes and install gaam-wide water filtration systems.
I have been through a multitude of emotional waves in the last nine days, depictions of which will require multiple posts, photographs, and energy. Before me have been what I like to call old money homes (people who never went to America) and new money homes. Elderly and young. Poor and definitely not poor. Shockingly nice work performed at a next-to-nothing profit. Modesty and happiness. But, what sent my emotions on an upswing were times when I witnessed Ba's and Dada's living alone, with only a caretaker (a young, poor gaam lady who would otherwise probably not have a home). The children in Dallas or Houston or California, inevitably running a motel with children and no time to come back to care for their ailing parents. Earnest and desparate conversation containing the translated phrases of "If only God would take me, life would be better." Flashes of childhood news stories of Kevorkian seep into my mind. And then my emotions take an unexpected sharp turn when I come across another elderly woman, my dad's own mami, who lives contently on her own. 91 years old and no high blood pressure, cancer, eyesight loss, or anything. She has many times visited the US and knew right away life in India was better-as she says-where the doors are wide open and gaam visitors enter at will.
As a calm car ride levels my emotions, my mind wanders to what it must have been like for mom and dad, not to even mention Ba and Dada. No running water. No electricity. Kerosene lamps. Milling their own flour. Lord only knows about potable water. It is all I can do to contain my own curiosity, after barraging my mama with a gamut of questions. Srin and I have had long reflective discussions upon drifting into an acoma-like slumber. One of us remarks "How the world goes round, for India is seeing a large return of young Indian-Americans due to our own economic downturn and the rising of this one's. My mind is baffled at the notion but my heart swells that life has improved for so many deserving human beings. For I believe our economic woes pale in comparison to poverty around this planet. I too have lost thousands of dollars due to the housing market (oh yeah-I sold my house in Htown!), yet I am thankful each day that even in this state, my American status grants me a well paying job, a home, food, and even fashion. Not to mention the sheer ability to travel in style. Not that I mean to be insensitive to the numerous Americans who have lost their jobs (I personally know many), but people still eat out and shop and carry on somewhat normalcy. My travels confirm my suspicions that even in our struggling, we are far better off than millions abroad. It is, however, with a smile that I witness the gaams of my grandmother, mother, and father having surpassed those millions. Having resisted Westernization (not the faintest sight of English within a 10km radius), "domestic" help and social classes remain in tact. Sure, the laborers work beyond diligently for amounts we throw in wishing fountains. But, their skills are used and families provided for. And happiness rings in the gaam air.
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Swaminarayan Mandir near Varad, Ba's gaam
Mom's old high school in Digas
Near Patel's gaam of Khoj