Last month I embarked upon a trip that restored my faith in humanity. I know right, that’s a pretty bold statement to make, but it’s true!
I journeyed across various Indian states from Maharashtra to Karnataka, Telangana to Bihar, and New Delhi to Punjab along with my parents and a bunch of people, from various parts of the UK, whom I’d never met before. Every day for two weeks we had breakfast together, we caught flights, coaches, taxis and tut-tuts together, we ate dinner together and then as each day drew to a close we’d say our goodnights; by the end of it, as you can imagine, we’d become a family of sorts.
The average age of the group was probably about sixty years old, but as bizarre as it may sound, I loved that! I relished the opportunity to push trolleys for my substitute grandmas and grandpas (as I liked to call them). To hold their bags and help them up and down stairs. To take photos on their cameras for them whenever they were baffled by the various settings and flash options (which was 99% of the time!). And to connect their phones to the Wi-Fi whenever we came across a hotspot! But most of all I loved to hear their stories; each one had such a uniquely fascinating character and so much wisdom to impart. And being somewhat grandparent-deprived as of the last few years, I was eager to take it all in.
One person who made a particular impression on me was the eldest member of the group. Her hair was preened and white and she was always dressed to the nines, accessories and all. Even her nails were forever freshly painted and matching her outfits, me and my drab garb were put to shame on a daily basis! But as porcelain doll-like as she was to look at, she was also fiercely independent and not afraid to speak her mind. One thing that she particularly loathed was to be called Mata Ji: a term of respect reserved for elderly women. She didn’t feel old, she told me this in one of our very first conversations, and so she couldn’t understand why people insisted on fussing over her as if she were an invalid, or some sort of ancient artefact that belonged in a museum! From there on out I opted to go down the less offensive route, calling her Auntie Ji instead! Often in the humid evenings Auntie Ji and I would link arms and walk along the streets as she’d toss priceless nuggets of insight my way. One that I’ll never forget was something along the lines of: always be original, never try to be anyone but yourself or do what other people are doing because your strength lies in your individuality, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Now I know that’s a fairly obvious statement to make, but it was the way that she said it. I remember thinking wow, she is a legend, and I really hope that I never forget her words.
Halfway through the trip I had the misfortune of developing a chest infection. It would take at least a day before a doctor could come and see me so in the meantime my substitute grandmas rallied together and sprung in to action! Bringing me various tablets and home remedy concoctions that they assured me would have me feeling better in no time! Furrowing their brows with concern, they’d take turns resting their weathered but firm hands on my forehead and cheeks to check the damage. And of course I loved every second of it. Not the chest infection part obviously, having people fuss over me and feeling like they genuinely cared really touched me. Because in all honesty they didn’t need to.
We weren’t obliged to be kind to one another, to care about whether so-and-so had eaten yet, but we did, we all did. It was an innate reaction. We naturally opted to unify rather than to spend our journey going off individually as we could have well done. Sharing Pringles and Werther’s Originals while trading pictures of our family members back home, just so that we could understand one another a little better. There were no bad vibes at all, no ill intentions amongst these people, which I’m sure you can agree is a rarity in this day and age!
And so saying goodbye to everyone by the end of it was tough to say the least. Of course I welled up, I’m horrible at goodbyes as it is! Although let the record show, I did cleverly conceal my eyes beneath sunglasses as I went around hugging everyone, wiping my cheeks with my scarf when nobody was looking, so I don’t think I came off looking too sappy! But everyone was emotional on that last day, even Iron Man AKA my dad! We’d all grown attached to one another in those two weeks so some of us traded phone numbers and home addresses with the intention of keeping in touch in some way or another.
It actually turned out that one of my substitute grandmas didn’t live too far away from us in England, so she popped round for tea shortly after we’d all arrived back home! How sweet is that?! And let’s not forget my favourite person, the oldest and wisest group member; she reminded me of her awesomeness today. I rushed downstairs not long ago to sign for a parcel, expecting it to be one of my online Christmas orders and lo and behold it was from her! She’d sent me two pairs of earrings, similar to ones that she’d worn one day on the trip. Their unique design had really caught my eye and I’d told her that they looked very elegant. Her response was, I’ll send you a pair if I see any in my local jewellery shop back home. I remember smiling and saying thank you, dismissing it as nothing more than kind words to humour me. But she actually sent me some! No long letter or message attached, just her name, phone number and two words: any time. 🙂