I was hoping to write a little something every day to capture what is going on in my head whilst I am out here. Unfortunately, I didn’t account for the fact that I could get ill, and after throwing up every hour for the past two days, and having slept solidly for the past 20 hours, reaching for a laptop has sort of been at the back of my mind. After tentatively having some solid food for breakfast and feeling my insides settle a little bit, after what can only be described as a tsunami hitting the lower half of my body, I am ready to start writing again. Let me start from where I left on off two days ago in Jamnagar.
The great thing about Jamnagar is that it is a portal to many different parts of Gujarat. Located somewhat in the centre, it gave us the opportunity to choose a number of places to go without worrying about driving for hours on end. For me, there was only one real choice. Porbandar. Not because it is the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, although this was a factor, but this was the place that my grandmother passed when she visited with my aunt and father only 3 years before. It would be the first time that they had gone back since the incident, which cut the fabric of our family in half 2 days before my 18th birthday.
I was apprehensive which was expected. Three years ago, she arrived in Porbandar in the evening, hoping to see the sights the following morning, but the day never came. Our first stop was the temple of Harshadimata, the goddess of individual families, who was allotted to us in some fashion before I was born – our own patron saint. I am not really sure how these things work, nor did I really have the inclination to ask, but I know that it was important to her. She died to be here.
The drive was longer than I was expecting. Considering our driver was from a different state in India, and there were no signs that I could see directing us towards the small village in which the temple stood, I was impressed that we got there at all. As soon as we set down, we took the fancy of a couple of children who tried to sell us religious offerings to deliver at the shrine, before they got distracted by a tour bus that pulled in behind us and realised that they had chosen the wrong crowd. I remember it being dusty, warm and quiet. Really very quiet for India.
The temple itself was such a disappointment. I hoped that I would feel some sort of connection, knowing how special it was to her, but there was nothing. An earthen idol, set back in the orange and green of its surroundings, it seemed like nothing special – and so I sat back in the dilapidated arches of the outer courtyard and felt that crushing feeling of lost expectations. Dad and I walked out towards the river adjoining the town, the opposite side of the temple, and he explained how the first strands of hair of both my brother and I were submerged here. How decades ago, in this small little town, we found a new beginning. And this was all part of the journey.
The next thing I remember is sitting in a strange house looking at the silky, red carpet on the floor. It was probably the most expensive thing in the house and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The owner of the rug and the house was one of the last men to see my grandmother alive and the first to see her dead. Kailashbhai, a humble dress shop owner and distant cousin on my father’s side, was our final stop for the day – we visited to thank him and his wife for their help three years ago. Unfortunately, I fear it was the food that I ate there which made me feel so unwell, but it was worth it to see one of the men who saved my father’s sanity when it happened.
I believe I have now met all of the people that were there that fateful February night in Porbandar. The three different families in three different locations. All incredibly unassuming and welcoming. All with a firm sense of duty. Whilst the shrine may not have developed any feelings within me whatsoever, Porbandar rekindled the faith of something much more important.
Faith in people.