A child of India’s villages knows the magic of dust. It gently sifts down in a golden shimmer covering everything with fairy dust.
“Out of the dust; now! You naughty child! How can I take you to the bazaar now? You are filthy!” One person’s fairy dust is another’s filth.
I loved my ayahbhai (a nanny, but much more!) and loved to inflict myself on her. I loved the golden dust of Maharashtra and saw it as a blessing. She saw it as a curse that must be wiped and washed away. I was spoiled and indulged and loved the soil; she was tasked with keeping me clean and presentable. I loved her and she adored me. I know this because I met her once again when I was 17 and had returned to India with my parents. She no longer lived in the same village, and my parents and I lived in Bombay then.
When I knew her well she was round and ample, the color of golden dust, and had long black hair always pulled into a knot at the back of her head. (I have never had enough hair to pull into anything at the back of my head.) She towered over me and was so strong. She had to be; I demanded that she carry me most places until I was sent away to boarding school at the ripe old age of 5 years and 1 month. When I met her again she fit right in my cleavage as she threw her arms around me, weeping and speaking a language I no longer knew. She had the same knot of hair, but now it was gray. She had definitely shrunk in height but was still nice and round and still adored me. I did understand the fact that she was still calling me her baby. This is also the word for a small female child but she said it with a passionate, possessive adoration. I was left blushing and speechless since I could no longer communicate with her.
I often wish I could have spoken with her and told her what she meant to me then, and what she still means to me. Someday maybe I will get the chance to be in her presence again and she will know what I have wished to tell her all these years. I so appreciate my childhood and the amazing blessings bestowed on me throughout my life. I think she would find it amusing that she impacted much of my views and perspectives on life, on eternity, on the wonder of nature, both in India and in the Western world, and on what it means to be a decent human being.
At the top of her list of what it means to be a decent human being is to be clean and dust-free. Where I saw fairy dust, she saw filth; not to be indulged in. Where I saw Christmas raisins, she saw gocherdies or ticks; they tasted lovely! Where I saw wonderful clay, she saw cow dung; not to be played with. Where she saw the blessing of shoes, I saw unnecessary encumbrances; to be avoided at all costs. Where she saw the need for me to fit in the “white world”, I did not see beyond our village and compound.
So many of us who were raised in the intersection of two worlds hold these stories of our lives, and their deep significance to who we have become, in silence and hesitation. From experience we know that many mono-cultural people think they are a bit phantasmagorical and we must be hallucinating, delusional, or maybe just “telling stories”.
This is the place for my stories to be told. On a stay in Darjeeling, I was asked by an elder community member to please write my generation’s stories. So here they begin.