9/26/15 – India

My eyes open at 5:45 am today. It seems like I’ve slept right through Satsang. I freshen up and then stay in my room to read for a while. Having this luxury of not being on much of a schedule is such a novelty, not something I get to experience in my life as a professional woman, and mom of two young kids. Two hours later, it’s time to get ready for the day. Water is rationed here even though there’s no real shortage. Water is provided a couple times a day and that’s when the hot water tank gets filled, buckets get filled and dishes get washed. I decide to take advantage of that and quickly turn on the hot water geyser to get some hot water.. I then fill the remaining bucket with cold water and proceed to bathe with the contents of just that one bucket. I would guesstimate I used about 2 gallons of water. Having a bucket bath is something of an experience. Highly water-efficient actually once you get the hang of it. 

Bath done, daddy and mama are still napping so I settle down outside again to watch the owls, the people working and to write. 

Ram comes with today’s vegetables- cucumbers, a cauliflower head and long radish that will be julienned and made into ‘paratha.’ All that cost about Rs. 75 – I hear him narrating to daddy the expenses. So even at 99 years, I’ve noticed that daddy has a firm handle on what’s being spent, what things cost and who comes at what time. He’s garnered a lifetime of respect in this community and it’s paying dividends now as he relies on people who aren’t family to care for him and his wife in these last days of their lives. His oldest son who lives outside Dayal Bagh comes once every few days to check on them and manage their larger medical issues- but for day-to-day running it’s just them and the maid brigade. 

I chat with Jason and the kids and hear all about how Corwin got 7 stars in school for doing all his homework! Jason’s the proud papa! Sitara’s violin teacher sent her accolades too! My auntie– the one who’s kids I’ve grown up with comes to visit. She’s walking with a cane due to arthritic knees but other than that for me she looks exactly the same from over 30 years ago! Same gentle voice and loving smile. We visit for a short while and then she’s off. She needs a rickshaw to bring her to the nursery school where she’s still a teacher. There’s none to be had so I walk the 200 yards to the gate and ride in one back to where she’s standing outside the house. I bid her adieu and she promises to visit again before my departure. 

Priya arrives at 9am and I ask today for ‘mooli paratha’ which is julienned long white radish that’s stuffed inside the wheat dough rolled into a ball, and then rolled out into the dinner sized plate and roasted with ghee. I’m expanding and experimenting with my gastronomic horizons – I had avoided dairy and therefore chai the first day here and also avoided butter and ghee except when it was in the cooking. Today I allowed myself to add a pat of butter on the hot paratha and devoured two! I’d added some ghee to the roti last night and there’s seriously nothing better! It’s my gastronomic happy place. One that interestingly I’ve not allowed myself to go to in all these years of living in the U.S. (May have to revisit this once I get home.) 

It’s just before 10am and daddy has been wanting for me to go ‘get blessed’ by visiting the museum within Dayal Bagh. Priya walks over with me to show me the way. I wear sunglasses to shield my eyes from the sun and she reminds me I won’t be allowed to wear them inside. I promise to perch them on my head. We make our way over, and have to sign in — IN HINDI! I haven’t written Hindi script in possibly 20 years. Certainly I’ve never needed to write my name…I fumble through and actually write it relatively correctly. Old rusty synapses and neurons are beginning to fire again. I’ve read recently that every single memory is imprinted within us– no matter how seemingly insignificant– and that we just need the right set of circumstances to excavate them to the surface. So if this is true then what of those less than warm and fuzzy memories of our past? The ones that we would rather never remember? The possible trauma we’ve experienced and buried so deep hoping never to have them resurface. If all is required is a trigger to excavate because they were perhaps not dealt with, or soothed, or feelings were left unconfronted then it’s no wonder that we carry this baggage around with us for a lifetime. This is part of what I’m being called to do, reveal, release and rewrite Your Gastronomic Story! It’s truly the story of our life that informs how we eat, why we eat and how we show up for this life. How we do anything is how we do everything and so how we eat or show up to eat is how we treat our relationships, our profession, our jobs, our home, our cars, our life! Are you checked in and present for your food? Or are you eating on the go? Eating to live? Forgetting to eat? Not eating because of lack of time? How clean is your home? Your car? What’s the quality of your work? Are you able to get it done in the allotted time? Or are you spending 12-15 hours working? 

So we sign in and are asked if we are ‘Updesh’ or ‘Jigyasu’ – Updesh is someone who has taken the vow of vegetarianism…my grandparents have been strict vegetarians their whole life, they’ve never so much as had eggs and usually will shy away from birthday cakes too. Jigyasu then is someone who hasn’t taken Updesh. I could have sworn she raised an eyebrow at me…but she’s never going to see me again so it rolls off me. 

We make our way through to ‘mattha theko’ literally translates to ‘bow one’s head.’ Here is a museum with the history of Dayal Bagh and one I definitely want to spend time reading – sadly because it’s nearly 10am we are rushed to what they deem to be the single most important reason to be there…to bow in front of the picture of one of the former Huzurs and then kneel and literally place my head on the ground outside a doorway which was the doorway to his living quarters. Again, best not to cause waves. I do as expected for as brief a second (the lady before me stayed in that position for a good 30sec or more). Really what I’d rather be doing is reading and exploring all the pictures and artifacts…including an old fashioned rickshaw and a white row boat? What? Need to know more about that. We get rushed through by the very official old ladies who take their post very seriously and in minutes are being ushered back out into the hot sun. 

Daddy and mama are satisfied that I’ve done my ‘duty.’ I’m happy to make them happy. At this stage there’s really not a lot that I wouldn’t do for them. 

Around 11:30am Gur Prasad arrives to run errands if needed. Today we need a liquid digestive enzymes for mama, some daal, and maida, a type of flour to make the Chana Bhatura like I had en route to Agra from Delhi. Gudia apparently makes a mean Chana Bhatura. 

Priya asks if I want coffee today. I’m expanding my gastronomic reach and say yes! Let’s see how my stomach does with Indian milk. In the USA I don’t consume dairy at all. After having done a food elimination program I’ve discovered a sensitivity to dairy. Sadly I break out with painful acne. Worst of all for me is my inability to have French Brie. It’s just about the only thing I miss. But it’s not worth it to me to have acne all over my face for a few minutes of ‘palate pleasure.’ Coffee and biscuit done. I’m sitting outside while daddy and mama are being washed and spruced up. This time of the day is fun for me…all three of the younger maids are here – Priya who is with them all day, Gudia who’s their main cook and a good one at that, and Pooja who comes to massage and bathe mama. They all have a young vibrant energy and genuinely care about my grandparents. I feel deeply grateful to them and find myself wanting to engage them and know more about their lives. Priya and I have been sharing photographs- yesterday I showed her many of what i have in my phone of my family and life in the US and today she does the same for me. She’s 22 years old and wise beyond her years. Wants to study and do a bachelor’s degree before getting married. I encourage her to do that and remind her that I didn’t marry till I was 31 and had completed all my education including an MBA. 

A little while later lunch is served. I’d asked her to make ‘baingan bharta’ (eggplant roasted on the fire to give the skin a smoky flavor and then it’s cooked), ‘simla mirch aloo’ (green bell pepper and potato) and ‘Urad daal’ (yellow mung beans) brought from the ‘bhandar ghar’ or the canteen for subsided food. Gudia is making fresh rotis to go with the food. Yum! I eat three! I usually don’t eat more than 1 in the US…that’s if I eat them at all- which I usually don’t — going to have to rethink that too! 

I’m re-training daddy right now. He tends to inhale his food super fast and then ends up regurgitating a lot of it. Defeating the purpose of the practically pulpified foods. I’ve been watching him eat. He won’t have finished what’s in his mouth and then he’s putting more in, then he coughs and needs to spit it out. Today all day I’ve been checking his speed. With every bite, I’m reminding him that he needs to eat slower. After every two bites I’m asking him to pause a bit and let the food go down first. He does it for a couple bites then reverts back to top speed. So I keep at him. I told Priya we will eat in the same room as he instead of at the dining table so that I can monitor his food intake speed. I’m figuring I’m here another three days, and then my parents and brother will be here for the next 5 days, so I can enlist their help too, and if I can reprogram Priya to help keep up the monitoring after we all leave in mid October then we stand a chance that his regurgitation issue will be severely reduced and more food and therefore more nutrients will be entering his body and hopefully he can put some meat on his bony frame. He’s been complaining that it hurts to sit for too long because of how skinny he is and how his bones are protruding. It might be nothing, but it might certainly help! This is working!! Priya says that he regurgitated a lot less today! Yeah!!! It takes 21 days to start a habit, 40 days to solidify it and 60+ days to ingrain it. Thereafter if it’s not maintained, these young brain synapses are easily broken. Maintenance and repetition is key. There’s a reason for the cliché ‘repetition is the mother of all learning’ — because it’s true!! I’ve got to enlist the help of Priya and Gudia to help with this. They’re the ones who feed them meals. 

After lunch while they’re resting I let them know that Usha and I are going to the market again. I want to replace the plastic drink bottles which they rinse and use to store boiled drinking water with either bpa free plastic or preferably glass bottles. So we set off– man powered rickshaw to the first stop…a supermarket-style store here right outside Dayalbagh! Wow. What a novelty! They don’t have what we need so we leave and Usha says we can go to a different store close to the center of Agra. So off we go- another rickshaw. Now we are in the chaos of Agra. I realize just how spoiled I’ve been living in Dayalbagh where life is pristine and quiet. I actually hear birds, not horns. People aren’t allowed to honk their horns and during certain times you can’t actually drive you car or even ride a bike…bikes have to be walked. My senses are bombarded with noise, dirt, pollution, people and smells! The rickshaw driver skillfully navigates autorickshaws, buses, cars, cyclists, cows, dogs and people and safely gets us to a bigger mall-type store with everything in it. We browse and then start filling our basket with things for the house. New stainless steel small bowls, glass bottles for milk and water, a toothbrush holder and some other knicks and knacks. I’m thinking we will get an autorickshaw right away but no, I forget autorickshaws aren’t allowed in Dayalbagh because of the level of pollution they put out- so we have to brave the road and cross over to get a man powered one instead. We quickly get one, hop on and are heading out. The difference in decibel level is palpable when we turn into the gates of Dayalbagh. I take my first deep breath since we left the gates two hours ago and settle back to enjoy the ride. I give the driver 20-30 rupees more than we agreed upon and he leaves happily! It is after all almost 100 degrees and he’s hauled a collective 225lb at least between Usha and I. 


I show mama and daddy the things I bought (showing daddy means giving them to him in his hands so he can feel it). Then I crawl into bed between them and lie down for a while. Mama instantly grabs my hand. 


4pm Daddy’s alarm goes off and Priya turns the light on. It’s tea time now. Ginger biscuits, tea and ‘namkeen’ (something salty) is served and again I’m monitoring daddy’s consumption. I’ve brought Trader Joe’s pumpkin bars for them. I break one up and give each of them a piece. It’s soft enough that daddy will be able to eat it. I’m curious to see if they’ll like it. Mama doesn’t, daddy does. Good. Another thing he can eat without choking. 

Mama wants to go for Satsang today- she’s feeling good. She’s done her complete breathing treatment so isn’t out of breath like she was yesterday. She couldn’t catch a full deep breath and didn’t have the energy to go…even though she’s wheeled there. She picks out a pretty blue cotton ‘salwar kurta’ and Priya helps change her. She’s looking really pretty, the first time I’ve seen her out of her nightgown since arriving. I dote over her and she loves it. I ask her if I can take her picture and she complies. I ask her to smile and she gives me this beautiful smile. I get snap happy on my phone. Then she asks to take one with Priya and then me! 

Priya leaves at 5pm and it’s just the three of us for a while. I wonder what happens when I’m not here. I guess the maids just leave when they’re expected to leave and if the next shift person isn’t here yet- there’s a brief period that it’s just the two of them alone. Not a thought I want to dwell on. And such is their life and they’ve managed for years. It’s not up to me to change things up too much in the 5 days that I’m here.

5:30pm Pooja arrives – her job is to take mama to Satsang and she’s delighted that we’re all going today. She gets to fulfill her need to go as well. We sit around talking while we wait for 6:15pm to roll around. Daddy’s guy Rajesh comes around to help him get ready for Satsang. Hat, hearing aid so he can hear the ‘binti’ and ‘patth’ (prayer songs) and into the wheel chair he’s lifted. He’s so little now. At the height of his life daddy was a strapping man! He was 5’9″ but to me he may as well have been 6′! He was solid. As an army man he was also very fit! He woke up every morning at 4am, would tend to his personal hygiene and then shine his shoes till you could see your reflection in them! He would go to Satsang then come back for bath and breakfast and then off to the boys’ hostel on his cycle where he was the Warden for as long as I can remember. This appointment to the Boys’ Hostel was made by the then Huzur himself- back in 1976. His mother, my great grandmother was still alive at the time and so for his appointment he asked for m, and received these 2 adjoined houses where they’ve lived ever since.

We lock up the house and wheel mama to Satsang. My grandparents were probably one of the most notable couples here in Dayalbagh at one time. Even now, as we are walking over to the Satsang hall, we get stopped along the way as some ladies want to pay their respects to her. Along the side of Satsang hall inside is a row of chairs for people who can’t sit on the ground. We wheel her into a spot, displacing a couple chairs in the process. Pooja tells me that these are chairs that people bring and leave in their ‘reserved’ space, complete with their name on the chair. Pooja and I find a spot under a fan close to her. It’s an exercise in people watching for me…there’s lots of little kids here, moms bring them with their little toys or coloring books to keep them occupied and I’m amazed at how well they behave. There’s a 15 month old toddler in front of us waddling around on newly found feet! He’s adorable. He runs past me, stops, makes eye contact, smiles and then keeps on running. His older sister gets dispatched by the mom to go corral him.

At 6:45pm, suddenly I notice Huzurji is sitting in his spot and immediately the collective voice begins. This part where everyone sings along is called ‘binti’ – it’s very melodic. After that’s done, the assigned women start their prayer song called ‘patth’ — not so melodic. Two patths later mama gives us the sign she’s ready to go. We discreetly (as discreetly as you can wheel someone out) leave and I notice at the start of the exit ramp, Pooja turns her chair around a) so that she can control the speed of the chair down a ramp and b) because the respectful way to exit Huzurji’s presence is to back out so that you don’t turn your back to him.

As we walk home we notice that a few men have decided to use our patio as their own personal listening place for Satsang– they see us approach and quickly exit. We get mama situated and shortly thereafter daddy arrives.

Dinner is a repeat of lunch today with yummy hot rotis. We set up our table in the same room as daddy and mama sleep and basically live the days of their lives right now, so I can monitor daddy’s food consumption speed. Today was a successful day in that he regurgitated very little.

Again, I wait till Ram and Surekha make an appearance and then retire to my room. Tomorrow I’ve told Priya I want to make a list of things for the house so that stuff can be cleaned out and old rusty things can be thrown away.