At Home in India

I went home for a day in India — not to my home in Pennsylvania, but to my friend Anjali’s home in Mumbai. Anjali Merchant, a student aboard the Semester at Sea ship, was so happy to eat Indian food again, see her parents and celebrate her sister’s sweet 16 birthday party the night she arrived home. I was fortunate to arrive in India with her and experience life in her Indian apartment for myself.

I didn’t make the decision to fly to Anjali’s house early in my India planning. In fact, I decided to book the flight to Mumbai just days before we arrived in the country. I already had an extremely packed schedule planned, including travels to New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. But I knew that it would be incredible to meet Anjali’s family and spend time inside an Indian home — even if it was for just a few hours. So, I went.

After a chaotic morning and flight to Mumbai, I jumped in her family’s car. I was prepared for a different way of life and hopefully capture it all on my video camera. When her dad asked, “So, what has been your favorite place so far?” I realized I wasn’t just experiencing India, I was getting a taste of what it will be like to go home. These are the questions my parents will be asking. These are the conversations that Semester at Sea staff said will be so strange when I go back to Pennsylvania.

Before I knew it, Anjali and I were explaining our Semester at Sea experiences to her parents. I have no idea why this was shocking to me, but it was. I’ve been separated from my family since August, and I’ve planned to be physically detached until December 13. I wasn’t ready for the questions, the comfort and the normality that I started to feel in the car.

When we arrived at the Anjali’s apartment, I rode an elevator to her flat. Servants and a cook prepared a wonderful vegetarian meal for me. And, sitting next to the mosaic of a Hindu idol, I understood that the house was clearly different from my home. But, I felt like we had more in common than I had expected, and I felt more welcomed than anything. Mr. and Mrs. Merchant’s hospitality was overwhelming. They fed me an amazing traditional Indian meal. We ate spicy cauliflower, fried onions, hot nan, freshly prepared vegetables, creamy corn on toast and loads of Indian side dishes.

Mr. Merchant gave me Bollywood DVDs and music. They took me to sari and bangel shops. They even ordered Domino’s Pizza before I left to make sure that I was full with a flavor of something suiting my American taste.

Besides the gifts and warm greetings, this family embraced me. The Merchant family introduced me to their entire family. I was hugged, kissed and engaged in more conversations than I can count.

This kind and loving family showered me with love and opened their home to me as if it were my own. My first day in India wasn’t what I expected — it was better. Instead of looking at Indian culture like it was a fish in a fishbowl, I experienced what it means to be part of a family in Mumbai.

— Ashley May

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