First Visit of Renu to America on Donkeyback

In the year 1964 Renu went to visit her Mamaji (mother’s brother) in a small, very remote village in the Alwar district of Rajasthan state in India. That Mamaji was I, and here is the story.

I was doing an ethnographic study of the Meo people, also called Mewatis, and had settled in the village named Chavandi Kalan. This was in a semi desert area and the village was about 5 miles from the nearest big town Tapikada on the roadside. Camel was our usual transport. My younger sister and her family then lived in Delhi. She wrote and asked if she could visit us. I gave her detailed instructions how to reach the village and told her to be sure to inform me in good time so I could come to receive her in Tapukada. Her letter did not reach me in time.

When my sister with four small children, one of them being Renu, got off the bus I was not there to meet them. She waited for a while and as it was getting late in the afternoon her fear of getting stranded in a totally strange village began to turn into alarm. She went and talked with a shopkeeper. He knew me well and realizing the situation of my sister and the children quickly arranged help. There was a potter in the village that offered to help bring the visitors to Chavandi. It took him little time to get his three donkeys ready. He carefully loaded the luggage on the backs of the donkeys and also made room for the youngest two children to ride. The older children and my sister had to walk alongside the animals and the potter.

The road was unpaved and passed through many rough patches. There were streams to ford and dry beds full of sand to trudge. It was a daunting experience for my sister and especially for the children who had never been outside the city. Going was painfully slow. They had covered even half the distance when the sun went down. Going became tougher. Luckily the moon appeared and lit the path. By late evening the caravan arrived in Chavandi and were safely guided a villager to our mud house covered with thatch. Wow, my sister heaved a sigh and said, “What an experience!”

They stayed with us for a week. The children had the most thrilling time of their lives. My four and a half year old daughter Indu knew the village like the back of her hand. Everyone in the village knew her. She had many good friends. In her local Mewati style dress she blended in the local setting as a Meo. Acting as a guide to her cousins she took them everywhere and showed them whatever she thought was worth showing to outsiders. My wife Sudesh took her sister-in-law to meet her friends.

We went on several excursions—by walking, on camel back, and on bullock cart. We visited the nearby hills where we had a great picnic lunch.

My sister and the children had belly full of fun and it was the most unusual experience of their life.

To Renu this was America
Renu had always heard that Mamaji lived in America. So she concluded that Chavandi Kalan had to be America. There was no room for doubt in her mind.

All her friends in Delhi knew that Renu had gone to America to visit her Mamaji.
So they came to ask what America looked like. My sister was nearby but out of the children’s sight. She sensed what was to follow and sat down quietly to hear Renu’s description of America.

“Oh, America is not as big as Delhi but very different. There are very few brick houses. Most are built with mud, a few with stone. Women wear bright colored clothes and a lot of silver jewellery. Even little girls our age wear silver ornaments. My cousin Indu dresses just like the local children. Each house has an open yard where the elders sit and chat. Most men have beards.

There are many animals because all families own some. There are donkeys, horses, camels, cows, bullocks, goats and other animals. We rode on donkeys and camels. We also rode in bullock carts.”

One child asked, how do you go to America?

Renu answered. “We first ride a train, then bus, and towards the end we ride donkeys. Adults usually walk the last 5 miles. They packed our luggage on donkey-backs and put us children on top of it. It was very scary because the road was uneven. We came many times close to falling. I even fell once but luckily did not get hurt.

Someone asked: Did you like the visit?

Renu answered that she certainly would for it is much fun playing with American children and to visit those exciting places.

I am sure Renu remembers this, her first visit to ‘America.’

September 26, 2009