Bandi Kalan village, India
It was a cold night, kind of like a cold November night back home. Yesterday, from the big city of Benares we journeyed our way here. We had piled into the jeep and navigated our way through the narrow teeming streets, beeping all the way so that the people, boys on bikes and men with carts moved to the side. We passed the bird market street with all its cages of little colorful birds of all varieties and narrowly missed hitting a little girl. It’s a wonder to me that more people don’t have accidents here everyday. As we passed town after town, we saw stores, men building roads, makeshift car fixing places, every kind of craftsmen store, bicycle shops, people walking, women carrying loads of hay on their heads, trucks carrying rice or wood, even a shepherd moving his goats along. We went from the city through smaller and smaller towns to the more rural areas.
Here is the other half of India, where people grow rice and work in the fields all day and return home to their villages in the evening. They have lived in this same way for hundreds of years. Finally, we turn onto the dirt road that leads to our village. According to my father our family has lived here for generations and traces its way back to its founding. The village is made up of brick alleyways that lead to houses made mostly of clay. If you entered any doorway you would usually see a courtyard with a water pump in the corner, a metal pot next to it for Wudu, some cots with bedspreads, and some pans in the corner next to a clay or gas burner. Each home has a family that has lived here for generations. Nowadays instead of agriculture, most of the men support their families by going overseas to places like Saudi for years at a time.
We entered our ancestral home and met my aunts and cousins. They have been waiting since daylight. We made Wudu and prayed on the mats in the front room. Usually all the homes have a front guest area where any non related men can be entertained. Inside the house girls wear dupattas but only cover completely in front of their fathers and older men. They don’t wear Hijab in front of their cousins. The system seems to work fine except that in India it is common for cousins to marry each other!
We ate dinner cooked by two girl helpers and my aunt and cousins. One of the little girls had a large scar on her cheek, when I asked about it fearing some accident, they said in their simple way, “She came from Allah’s house like that” I show them how to make salad for my dad. Usually the men eat first and then the women.
Earlier, we decided to go ‘gumneh’ing which means we put on our Niqab and visit various houses. One house had a bride all dressed up in her bridal clothes and jewelry. Tradition in the village is that when a bride arrives in any home, people go to visit her and when she lifts her face they give her money.
Another house we went to had an elderly couple preparing to go to Hajj. Their family had prepared a huge feast of Biryani for anyone who visited. On our way through Benares we passed a place where all the Hujjaj were leaving. They were all dressed in white with their black Kufis and vests with long white beards. They were surrounded by family and friends saying their final goodbyes to them before they got in their vehicles. The Muslim world has such beautiful traditions and honors surrounding people leaving for Hajj, I was sad that we didn’t have anything like it in the US.
I am on the roof now with the children. The sun is setting in the distance. Women are on their rooftops preparing various things for the evening, bringing the animals down, finishing the wash, or cooking dinner. The sky is filled with pink and haze. It is almost Maghrib time. The Athaans begin. There are three Masjids in this village. One Athaan starts after the other. In the summer when I was here, everyone would be on the roof at this time, then the men would disappear and you would soon see women on every rooftop praying Maghrib.
In the distance are the fields of rice and sugar cane. Once it becomes dark people go to sleep and tend to stay awake after Fajr. It feels nice to be part of a village of Muslims. There are about four hundred Muslim families that live here.
At night, there are about 14 of us in a small room sleeping on handmade comforters spread on top of hay. My grandmother, me, my aunt, some kids, my other aunt, some other kids and so on. We laid down chatting about our day and laughing until everyone fell asleep.