For me, traveling home is a fraught process. First there’s the cross-country flight, then the cross-Pacific flight, overloaded immigration queues, packed baggage carousels, and clearing customs with a small, worn out kidlet. And then comes the hard part: visiting extended family.
It’s exciting to see my family--in theory. I only manage to catch up with my aunts, uncles, and cousins every couple of years, usually in a great rush with no time to sit, drink tea, and catch up on life, the universe, and everything. Sometimes, the amount of time I spend with each person is so small that it’s not even worth the car or plane trip. Everything would be easier if my family would meet up in one place, or meet me halfway--something my Scottish mother’s side does as a matter of routine. Peta’s coming to town? No problem. Let’s meet at an uncle’s house and all head out to dinner. My Indian family, though, want separate visits all over town, expecting me to house hop even when I’ve flown interstate to see them.
Frustrated to the point of tears this time around, I came as close to demanding my aunts come to me as I dared. Although I’m not exactly from a traditional family, I couldn’t simply say no to my aunt--much to the confusion of Joe, with his easy shout-it-out-say-what-you-mean Australian relatives. So we danced around the problem instead:
Me: Hi Chachi! How are you?
Chachi: Ohhhh! Hi! I’m good! Where are you? When are you coming? Not now--it’s raining, but tomorrow, right?
Me: Yes, tomorrow. But it’s a long way, so maybe...
Chachi: I know, but you have to come! I have to see the baby, and cook for you! You’re vegetarian right? And you still like pudgea?
Me: Yes, chachi, I still like pudgea, but--
Chachi: Good! Okay, so lunch then? Don’t eat a big breakfast!
Granted, this conversation has been dragged out of my journey-addled brain, and is colored by a fair amount of crankiness on my part (I spent a large part of the trip from the airport ranting. I’m good at ranting.) Even on the way to see my aunt, I was annoyed, because much as I love her, Mir was upset, and we had less than 24 hours to see my aunt, my cousin, and the entirety of my mum’s side, including some family Joe hadn’t yet met. But the moment I saw the packed dining room table, the irritation faded away.
Scooping up dal (I love dal), eggplant, and a dozen different pickles with soft as butter roti, I realized that my aunt wasn’t being difficult, but rather loving. The entire table was set with foods I loved a child, when I spent a lot of time hanging out at my aunts house, chasing my cousins, complaining about school, and chowing down pudgea slathered with tar-thick tamarind chutney. Eager for me to eat, chachi bounced the baby on her lap, feeding him the special, chilli-free dal she’d made just for him.
In the car on the way to see mum’s family, I picked at the knot on a bag full of leftovers, sated but still craving more of the pudgea, and the nostalgia that came with it. Later that week, when another aunt asked me around for dinner, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Indian families and house hopping may be frustrating, but it’s all part of loving my family, and being loved in return.