Once and awhile, as a traveler, I get lucky. I not only chance upon a hidden gem of the road-less-traveled, but also find a family.
My travel mate Iain, and I, set off of on a journey filled with equal measures of hijinx and hazard. Our destination was simply to be as deep in the bosom of Mother India as one could go. That meant if there was a hotel catering to foreign tourists, we were not deep enough. For this journey we exclusively hitchhiked, ensuring maximum adventure and certainty that we would arrive somewhere completely unexpected.
Welcome to "A-Village-So-Nondescript-I-Don't-Even-Know-Its-Name."
Like all perfect paradises, cabin-fever began to set in as soon as truckloads of kids starting hanging outside of our room. Naturally, Iain and I were pretending to be man and wife, as is custom, in such traditional places. That could be our only justification for shooing them away. However, since our bags were filled with such wondrous oddities of the western world, the kids stayed to watch us unpack with as much captivation as if they were watching Sponge Bob.
We smiled to one another, acknowledging the secret item we carried that no-one would ever find out about. Munika.
You see, India, blessed country that it is, sells legal hits of bhang (leaves and flowers of the female cannabis plant). You can buy it baked in cookies sold in government authorized shops, drink it in lassis (yogurt beverage) or simply purchase it in little black lumps. These balls of bliss come plastic wrapped, are sold for a penny a piece, and give you a major body buzz for a good few hours. Iain and I had a condom-strip length of them for the entire journey.
This was exactly the kind of place that a little dose of Munika would go a long way.
Our first night in the village was spent with our ears to the door, listening to the maniacal rant of drunken Papa; usual village stuff.
We passed our days visiting family members houses, walking in the picturesque hillside, and startling local passer-bys. We spent our evenings popping Munika and serenely sailing through family dinners with cheesy-grins. By our last evening together we were acknowledged as part of the family.
Sitting by the hearth of Mamas fire, watching her hand-roll and bake roti (bread), I had not realized how the primordial act of feeding her children was in-fact a sacred offering of life from an invisible heroine. Never has a woman's position been greater venerated than in the home, where she is the foundation of all those who live under her protective wing. I felt privileged to witness her devotion. Looking into her eyes I knew this was a damn tough woman. God only knows what struggles were emblazoned on her heart.
In India, the greatest symbol of respect for another person is 'Pranam' –– to touch the feet in an act of devotion and subservience. The night before we left I bowed and brushed my fingertips across the tops of Mama's toes and then brought my hands in prayer before my heart.
It was the first time I had performed this act wholeheartedly. Perhaps it was the gentle intoxication of the Munika, or the moon casting shadows on the folds of the Aravali hills, but I was sure I caught a glimpse of 'Mother India' herself and tonight she felt like my Mama too.
In that unspoken moment, the gravity of my action bonded us to one another.
Smiling, she accepted my humble offering and returned to tend the fire.