I learnt Gujarati, my home language, religiously until the age of 11. I remember sitting in a women’s kitchen, with a makeshift whiteboard on the wall to my left, looking down at a tattered textbook that I imagine was probably used by teach her children, leaning on a table that was covered in a thin plastic sheet to prevent the ink from our pens ruining her mahogany table. As I look out the window of this campervan, and try to read the various signs of these shops that we keep passing syllable by syllable, I must admit that those lessons seem to have come in handy.
This will be the third time that I have visited India in the last two years, having never set foot in the country before my 18th birthday. It was more by luck than circumstance that I was able to come in the first place, but this trip is completely different. I can’t remember the last time that we went on a proper family holiday, as both my brother and I have taken the last 6-7 years consecutively to finish our university degrees; but that means that we haven’t been away together as an entire family for nearly a decade.
India seemed the natural choice. My mum, having not been back since Nikhil was a baby (some twenty years ago), has been itching to come back and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. My only cousin out here in Gujarat is finally getting married, which is the only real incentive that she needed to plan out her ideal trip. Only two days in now, and already on the way to our third location it seems like she is determined to make up for lost time. I am less apprehensive than I was before we arrived – having mostly been travelling on my own for the past four or so years – I now feel happier and less stressed knowing that the weight of all this running around is much less heavy and more luxurious than I could afford on my own. There seems to be a lot more luggage though.
After a really stressful couple of months, this feels like the perfect time to start writing again. I wasn’t planning on doing anything like this when I left, which is unusual as I carry a journal with me all the time, but I don’t remember the last time I wrote anything down for me. My diary is always full of appointments, my pads full of seminar notes and my head full of conversations. At some point in the last two years, I just stopped engaging with them all and decided that my responsibilities were more important than my personal development.
Today was the first day in a while that I looked out the window and felt that pang to write. Anyone who writes a blog probably understands the feeling. Reading those signs in Gujarati shot me back into that kitchen in my childhood, my connection with my grandmother (we will get onto this another time) and this big move forward for my family. India has always been about heritage and at this moment, all I want to do is write it down which is fantastically exciting.
This space for my writing has always remained a risk and a source of nervous tension. When I plan what I want to say, it changes at least eight times before the final version is ready. Ironically, I re-wrote that previous sentence a few times before I was happy with it. However, I am going to go back to how it was at the beginning of this journey and write fearlessly. The next month will be the most honest conversation that I have had with anyone who reads this since I started writing as a confused and scared teenager.
I can scarcely remember what it was like to be that 11 year old who sat in the kitchen. Let’s go and find him.