The story so far…
Days in India:
The first 20 years of my life were spent in India. I grew up with two younger sisters and the most loving and caring ma and pa while living in different parts of India. Pa is a ‘Drilling Engineer’, ma until last year was a housewife. She started working in a school since last year to keep her busy as pa passed away. We salute her for she is a dynamic woman and an inspiration to all of us. My two sisters are engineers and now married - we are a close-knit family. We three sisters were given all the freedom and grew up learning the core values for the human race from our parents with huge emphasis on honesty, respect and empathy
We lived in different towns in different states of India (Gujarat, Rajasthan, Bihar, Bengal, Assam, Orissa, U.P., Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra) and embraced different cultures as we traveled from one state to another. This enriched our lives immensely. It was interesting that the food ma cooked was also a good mix of recipes from different parts of the world and the clothing too was varied. In dressing style too, fabric, patterns and styles, accessories change moving from one state to another. Thus I often say, “I consider I am from integrated India not just Uttaranchal’. We picked up different music and dances, languages and daily slangs too on moving from one place to another. I remember once a classmate commented ‘You live the life of gypsy’ when I told my teacher that this was my third school in grade 6. Well, that was an extreme year, normally it would be at least two years before we would move to another place.
The travel helped me grow up into a confident young woman and moved out of India in late 80s when I married Atul. We both wanted to explore the world, meet different people and learn about different cultures, so we soon set off on our global journey.
Days in Kenya:
Just after we got married, Atul and I moved to Nairobi, Kenya where Atul worked as a lecturer in Nairobi Univ. This was the first time away from home and I missed my family badly. Our daughter was born in Kenya and life became more interesting and meaningful.
Kenya is a beautiful country and we made some very good Kenyan friends from different tribes such as luo, kisi, kikyu, luhiya, akamba etc and also from different countries
Kenyan Indians ran all the shops (I don’t know what it is like now, this is until 1998), controlled all business, It would not be incorrect to say that Kenyan Indians contributed heavily to the economy of Kenya and the country’s economy thus depended on them. The majority of Kenyan Indians had migrated from India 3-4 generations back when British were laying the railway tracks in East Africa, some came as workers while others came as tradesmen. They worked extremely hard to reach the financial status one would envy, and possessed a peculiar arrogance.
If you are an Indian in Kenya, you are thought to be rich! There were lots of anecdotes around the wealth possessed by Indians and the relationship between Indians and Kenyans.
Atul would be asked all sorts of questions:
‘How do you make millions’ and he would reply ‘If I knew that I would not be teaching in the Univ.’
Another good one:
‘How do you multiply money?’ and he goes ‘I only know how to divide it’
A very good Kenyan friend (Dr. Clive Ondari from Kisi) would tell us that with the hope of learning how to make his first million, he always ensures to stock on Chivrah’ (Chivrah is an Indian savoury mixture, a specialty from Gujrat, India; approx fifty percent of Kenyan Indians are originally from Gujrat!)
While Clive’s wife, Karen who was a very good friend of mine would often crack jokes on how people are thinking that she is my househelp, when two of us would go shopping together. A very good friend, Agnes Waliaula (a Kikuyu married to Late Martin Waliaula, a Luhiya) would often make similar remarks when Agnes and I went out shopping together. I was told such friendships were not very common, although I don’t fully agree with that.
We got the flavour of true Kenyan life-style when we three went to Kisi with Karen, Clive and their two kids Hazel and Paul. We had a splendid time there and met with all their relatives and visited their villages. We received a very warm welcome from their family. We learnt so many things about Kisi culture. One was that when the son gets married, he cannot sleep with his wife under the same roof as his parents and so he must build a house next to his parents. So there they were with this beautiful house next to Mze Ondari (Senior Ondari), which was still under construction. It was massive but Clive was adamant that their other house in Nairobi would be Massive and we should wait and see that one! Young educated Kenyans like Clive who had seen Indians make money were driven by the idea of money and everything BIG. Karen’s only ambition, so it seemed, was to get a ‘Pajero’ when her daughter gets married, she often called Hazel, ‘my Pajero’. In Kenya the man is supposed to give the dowry for his bride to her parents. Just the opposite of what we have in India. So I would joke, we auction bridegrooms in India and here in Kenya the brides are auctioned! I have always found the concept of dowry revolting. Luckily, the state and in particular families that we interact with are all against the concept of dowry, so that always gave me some sort of satisfaction. When you visit in-laws in village in Kenya, one would always come back with a few chickens (depending on your in-laws wealth) as present, so each time we visited either Karen or Clive's folks, we came back with a few chickens!
On another occasion, we drove to Eldoret and then to Kisumu with some Kenyan Indian friends. This trip too was very educational. It was interesting to see how Kenyan Indians living there for generations had unconsciously adapted to Kenyan culture, yet they were more Indian than Indian Indians in their life style and upbringing! Possibly because they did not want to loose their “roots”.
Kenya is a beautiful country with an excellent climate, Nairobi is at 5000 feet but being on equator, it never got very cold either. There were no fans in the houses in Nairobi because it never would get that hot. Though with global climate changes, it too gets slightly warmer but never would it reach the temperature to beat the scorching summer heat in some parts of India.
The limit was…………………..
On seeing a fan for the first time (a pedestal fan at Mumbai (then Bombay) airport), nearly 3 yrs old daughter exclaimed, ‘whats that mum!’ and stood in front of it in dismay! People looked at us wondering which village did we live in!
Each trip to India was enlightening for our daughter too:
She was nearly 5 on her next trip. We were driving to Aligarh. On seeing the cow dung cakes (main fuel used for cooking and heating purposes in Indian villages) in the fields by the roadside, she screamed ‘Salami made out of mud!’ A very close comparison indeed!
This was the idea behind leaving India and bringing our daughter to India too to meet with different people and learn about different cultures. For our daughter, visits to India were mainly to bond with her culture and her people. We visited India once every two years.
Kenya is a gold mine of wild life and full of beautiful wild life parks; ‘Masaimara’ was our favourite holiday spot. We enjoyed our 11 years in Kenya and I still miss the country and its people. Its incredible how quickly you bond with a place.
There are so many stories that I could just go on blogging away……………… but I must stop. Slowly I will put photographs from different places we traveled to, so watch out for some beautiful wild life shots!