My comeback to India was indeed intense this time. On the same day I arrived in Delhi I received a phone call with horrible news: My best friend in the village had died of mushroom poisoning. I couldn’t believe it, she had a pretty good mushroom hunting knowledge.There are rumors that unhappy Indian wives occasionally mix some “special” mushrooms into their husbands’ dishes to get rid of them, but that’s another story…
She was an Indian lady, a strong woman, kind and fun. My daughter loved to go to her place to play with her grandchildren and I loved to go there, because I felt absolutely comfortable in her company. I don’t even know how old she was; every time I asked about her age over the past seven years she used to answer “40”. I will miss her hugs, laughter, company and listening to her singing and playing the dolak, especially during the Holi Festival.
After coming back to our mountain village, I went to visit the family to offer my condolences. It was hard. And of course, as all too often, I unknowingly blundered.
When I came back from there, our neighbor told me that TODAY was NOT the right day to visit a mourning family. The good days were Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. I sighed. How would I know? But being a foreigner, the family probably understood and kindly ignored my mistake.
Indian traditions and social rules are really complicated to get for a foreigner, no matter how hard you try. There are innumerable details that have to be observed and all of it depends on the region, community, family and caste. Sure you can always ask an Indian, but for them all the details just come naturally and if you do not ask precisely about any possible little thing, they will probably forget explaining it to you.
I live in India since almost eight years and I only can say that the bit I know is equal to nothing!
Where we live a mourning period of eleven days is observed after somebody passes away. Close family members are not supposed to leave the house, except for performing the corresponding rituals for the parting soul in the temple. The ladies of the household will wear simple clothes and will renounce wearing jewelry and cosmetics, while the male members of the family shave their heads; the sons wear traditional white colored clothing.
On the eleventh day the mourning phase ends and people start slowly getting back to their routine. A humble celebration is held in remembrance of the departed person and people dress up for the occasion. Exactly on that day my daughter ran away to meet the children of the family and I followed her. I didn’t know that it was the end of the morning period and was completely under dressed, my faded clothes stained with flour from baking. I greeted timidly from a distance, caught my girl and disappeared unobtrusively.
People here must think that I am a real weirdo. I am a bit of a disaster when it comes to remembering dates: I usually barely know which day of the week it actually is. I guess it has something to do that during the tourist season we open our cafe seven days a week and in the off-season, every day is a Sunday for us. Usually I forget about fasting days and most of the religious celebrations, too.
THERE ARE SO MANY!
Sometimes I only know about a festivity because our neighbor Mataji suddenly shows up with a plate full of treats in her hands. Shame on me!
Some might wonder how come that I do not have more knowledge about the Indian rituals and traditions being married with an Indian. I have been asking myself the same question and came to the conclusion that it figures that my husband left his home at the young age of eleven. He did not witness many years of deep family traditions inside of his home. Another point is that in most of the traditions there is a great difference in behavior and rituals, depending on whether you are a man or a woman.
Many times I asked my husband if I should go to this or that ceremony, what I should wear or what I should bring. He never really knew which advice to give me. He lived most of his life as a sadhu, which means that he did not live with any female presence that was not the image or a sculpture of a goddess. How would he know about how his wife was supposed to behave on a wedding, a funeral, when a new baby was born or if she was to attend this or that temple ceremony or not?
Baba also never has been a very ritualistic person himself and uses to say:
” If you are happy, then god is also happy. God doesn’t care if you fast or not; or even if you fail visiting the temple. All this, people actually just do for themselves. What really matters is that you try to be the best person you can be in your daily life ”