Do you know what Couch Surfing (CS) is? Essentially people who have a spare bed or some couch space will accept guests for a night or 3. International travellers are the most popular guests for obvious reasons.
You contact potential hosts in your destination via the CS app and request to stay. Based on your profile, your request and past references plus their availability, they will either decline or if you are lucky, they will accept. In Maroli my CS hosts have been Darshil and Dhruvi and their extended family. In a pair of large adjoining houses 13 people from 4 generations interweave their lives in a way that is very different to family life as most of us would know it.
Describing the lifestyle and seeing it from my cultural context it is conflicting on how to write about it without appearing critical or insensitive. So any Indians reading this, please understand that I am just trying to explain how it is to my family and friends.
No matter where I am staying, I do my best to be a good guest. For me that means helping out where possible, cleaning up after myself, maybe cooking a meal, washing dishes, whatever…it is about contributing to the household rather than being a burden.
That is really tricky here. In the Indian culture is a strong delineation between women’s roles and men’s. To put it bluntly the men are pretty much waited on hand and foot by the women…I find it a bit uncomfortable. It is a battle to take my used plates to the kitchen, Indian culture expects me to just leave them on the table – but that is really hard for me to do. The women have served us men at the table and when we are done, then they all sit on the kitchen floor and eat. Indian culture, I remind myself.
But what a wonderful family. Darshil is the head of the house, his father died 3 years ago. Also living in the house are his wife Dhruvi, his sister-in-law and her two children, his mother and his grand mother. There is also assorted staff that seem to come and go.
Just like with my children, I am not averse to picking a favourite and my clear favourite is Nani-Ji, grand mother. She is gorgeous to look at, has an obvious sweet and gentle nature, is as playful as you can be without speaking English and is an amazing cook.
Oh how I could go on about the food. Every meal is a different set of delights, all home made (by the women of course) and the food just keeps coming in a seemingly endless supply (while we men sit and eat).
Without making a big deal of it, Darhsil and his family run a very successful Ayurdevic pharmaceutical business and have homes and lifestyles that are good by any standard and luxurious by Indian standards. We spent a bit of time at the Nahar Phrmaceuticals factory that produces over 500 different tablets, pills, potions and no doubt poultices. It is interesting to see how the production process ranges from automatic pill press machines to a group of women sitting on the floor hand checking thousands of pills for faulty ones.
Maybe there isn’t a lot of choice, but for me, someone who lives in the middle of very quiet bush, the location of the houses is a little odd. The front doors are less than 50 metres from a busy railway line that has either a local or express train pass every 10 minutes or so, and they all blow their whistles because there is a crossing 100m down the track.
Perhaps the location is for the amusement value of the AM and PM commuter trains, I have finally seen a real life “people on the roof of a train”. They were hanging out the doors, standing between carriages on the couplings, crazy stuff. I have a video but am not ready to risk my luck uploading it, just happy to have internet for now.
And the title of this post? Darshil is very superstitious, every time he starts his car and is going to reverse out of the house, first he drives forward a bit. It made me laugh every time.
[Update] the draft of this was written about a week ago, it has taken that long to be able to upload images.