Sleeping leaves

Student holds on to memories of rare trip to see family in India


Thanksgiving is a quiet holiday for my family.

We usually try to spend the day with a family friend. As far as I can remember, I’ve never had a Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family.

Every four years or so, I visit them in Udaipur, Rajasthan, my parents’ hometown in India. Yes, the flight is long. This summer, our flight time was 19 hours and our total travel time was 36 hours. And there’s always that terrible moment in the long flight – the 14-hour flight from Chicago to Abu Dhabi – when I’m tired from trying to fall asleep and I check the remaining flight time and realize there’s still 11 hours left.

But it’s always worth it. Every time.

Our visit to India this summer was special because we attended my cousin’s wedding and it was the first time my sister and I had a chance to see all our cousins at once. There’s always at least one family that can’t make it to Udaipur, but this time everybody was there.

I’ll never forget the playful slapping sounds our feet made as my cousins and I ran across the marble floors at the wedding or how I felt when I blessed my cousin for her marriage and handed the groom a heavy plate of flowers. It was as if in two days, we made up for 18 Thanksgivings.

I also remember the quieter moments, like the day before my 9-year-old cousin had to leave and we were sitting on the porch at my great-grandfather’s house.

I walked over to the swing where my cousin was pushing himself. We took turns for a while, swinging in and out of the fluorescent bands of light that fell across the porch.

I hopped off the swing and plucked a leaf from a nearby tree as we always did during the day.

“Don’t pluck the leaves at night,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because they sleep,” he said, completely serious.

I smiled.

“OK,” I said.

I remembered to tuck this conversation in the back of my head as a reminder that, despite his seemingly uncooperative nature, my cousin could understand more than we gave him credit for.

There’s also another set of memories I always bring back from Udaipur – the confusing memories. These are the memories that give me a different perspective on my life in the United States.

One evening, I decided to join my grandfather on his daily walk to Fatehsagar Lake, a man-made lake in the center of Udaipur. We saw graceful neem trees bowed over strips of open sewage. We passed the local tailor, and he smiled and waved at us from inside his crumbling shop.

My grandfather smiled and waved back. I smiled too. But I wondered how the neem trees’ shadows look the same in sewage as they would in clean water and how a smile surrounded with crumbles can still survive. The strength of the trees and the people is beautiful in a strange and sad way.

The lake was unforgettable. And it wasn’t just the lake – it was the place. It was the way ladies sat at the edge of the boardwalk earnestly chatting under patterned veils. It was the smell of the street vendors’ freshly roasted corn and the way the sun set perfectly between two blue hills. And it was the way my grandfather and I could walk together in peaceful, mutually understood silence.

These are memories that I’ll hold on to forever.