My first ever visit to my homeland, although a very short one, was very emotional. I was accompanied by my brother-in-law (my elder Sister’s husband), from Bolton. We took a British Airways flight from Manchester and, after a stopover at Heathrow, landed in Mumbai (Bombay, at the time) in the early hours of the morning. As we stepped out of the airport, the scenes were amazing. The whole place was just flooded with people, the sounds of the horns were deafening, and the traffic was just chaotic, even at that time.
We had been received by two of my cousins, one of whom was also my brother-in-law (married to my younger sister). They managed to get us onto a train heading for Bharūch. We were tired and hungry, but the hustle and bustle of India, especially Bombay, kept us occupied. The train journey was enjoyable, and some hours later, we were closing in on Bharūch.
India and Indians are fascinating to say the least; sometimes, they do the most extraordinary of things. In order to get some fresh air, my cousin accompanied me to the door between two carriages. While standing there, I observed lots of people smoking away, or reading the newspaper, without the slightest fear of the train suddenly jolting. I couldn’t believe it.
Our destination was Pālej, a town in Bharūch district (Gujarāt), which used to be a princely state during the British Raj, acts as a commuter hub because of the railway and road infrastructure. The previous station is Bharūch (the city), a settlement with ancient origins (known in 80 CE) and a rich history, where Arab traders are famed to have landed to gain entry to Gujarāt, but has been disparagingly nicknamed the chemical capital of India
When we arrived, it was getting dark, and along came the famous tuk tuk rickshaw, a mode of transport I had heard so much about. The driver took four of us in, together with our hand luggage, unbelievable! As we sped along, heading for my maternal grandparents’ home village called Valan, he stopped en route to take in another passenger, the scene was amazing.
We made our grand entrance into Valan late into the evening, and as no one knew of our coming, my family just could not believe I had arrived in India. There were lots of hugs, embraces and handshakes as I met many of my maternal relations for the first time in my life, with everyone just so happy to see us. Soon, the house was overflowing. The feeling of arriving in my homeland was just terrific.
In the approximately two weeks in India, I spent time in my own village, Varediā, from where my family originated, and a few days in Mumbai. The visit was a very emotional one as I walked in the footsteps of my ancestors who, for generations, had lived in this village. I also visited a few other villages, including Vorā Samni, my in-laws’ village.
It was the month of June and as the monsoon season had started, it was humid, and it rained so much on some days that it was difficult to set foot outside the house.
Whilst in Mumbai, we visited the famous India Gate and the shrine of Hāji Ali. It was a sorry sight to see so many people asking from the grave and the deceased. This was the first time I had witnessed such actions; it was heartbreaking.
I returned back to the UK via Emirates Airlines after a short transit in Dubai.