Every place that we visit has a beautiful family history that spans the same trip over 25 years ago. Sitting in the Hotel Aram in Jamnagar for breakfast this morning, my parents told me about the last time they were here. My brother had just celebrated his first birthday and they had given him his first haircut. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a very auspicious ceremony, as the hair signifies the remnants of a previous life forgone as it is cut and replaced with a new beginning – a clean head of sorts. Although the baby doesn’t always see it that way and ends up bawling it’s eyes out.
Apparently the now patio of gravel and iron tables was once a lush garden filled with white chairs and a fountain. Over 200 people came to the ceremony that day, and the hair was purged within the hotel as well, as a sign of prosperity. I am not sure how much I buy into the ritualism, but there is something wonderful about the idea that my parents sat newly married in the same seats a quarter of a century ago, looking ahead at what their lives would bring.
Since then, obviously I was born, but it was the first time that they had set foot in the hotel since the occasion. According to them it hadn’t changed much in the time that they had been away, but it seemed like Jamnagar had. The city, close to the Western coast of Gujarat, was the birthplace of my grandfather, Jamnadas, who unfortunately died a year before I was born. My mum always joked that my birth was a blessing that the family needed after a distressing period and that is why I became so close to my grandmother. It has always been a great source of sorrow for me that I never got to meet the man who I seemed to be so alike.
Apparently he was impeccably well dressed, stern, committed to his family and a bit of a wanderer – everything I could relate to except potentially the first quality. I don’t think I could get away with wearing a three-piece suit everywhere like he did. There were so many times, according to Dad, that he would disappear on the bus for the day just to take in the life of the world around him. He would sit on a bench near Marylebone Station and contemplate what was going on, giving himself space to think and gain perspective on a life that spanned three different continents: Asia, Africa and finally Europe. It is something I have always aspired to achieve.
Walking around the famous reservoir in Jamnagar, that is now unfortunately running dry due to climate change, I imagined what it would have been like 70 years ago when he walked past the same, then brimming lake. It is a funny thing to feel an affinity with one you have never met. I imagine it is the same feeling as walking beside a character that you envisioned in a book; one that you had a real relationship with, but will never be able to meet.
Did he get the same itching to travel the world? To see the stars beyond the sky in front of him? I discovered his old passport this year, and it was covered with stamps from different countries including Tanzania, where I climbed Kilimanjaro. He lived in a world that didn’t have planes, or fast trains, but boats and steamers. What took us a day would have taken him three months, but he carried on. He ditched his sandals for shoes and walked a mile of footsteps with nothing to guide him but his heart.
It seemed pretty surreal to look at the same sunset all these years later with the knowledge that he succeeded. He made it to the other side of the world and back. Through us. Through me. And we never exchanged a word. There is something so beautiful about that.
And now the shoes have been passed onto me.