As we drove into Bhavnagar, through the expanse of salt pans and fields of wheat, my eyes adjusted to the dust, wind, and heat of the land which would be my abode for ten months. Bhavnagar, is a rapidly developing city in the heart of Saurashtra, Gujarat. Part of the Kathiyawad region of Gujarat, Bhavnagar has its own dialects of Gujarati and distinct food here. Situated near the Gulf of Khambat, it is well known for the tasty ‘Gathiya’, a fried Gujarati snack made out of wheat and the port of Alang, the world’s largest ship-breaking yard.
Saddled with apprehensions, excitement, and curiosity, I’d arrived at Bhavnagar a year back, and can happily say the town has given me more love than I deserved. As I leave from here, these are a few stories that have stayed with me over the past ten months:
“This is my cousin from my father’s side. She is my father’s second cousin’s daughter”, said my colleague as we looked at what would have been the fourth photo album of the evening. I had become accustomed to being invited to people’s houses for dinners, and having multiple photo albums brought out, on themes ranging from daughter’s third birthday party to nephew’s engagement. All neatly packed in plastic bags and kept in the Godrej safe vaults along with other prized possessions, these were typically pulled out as we waited for dinner, as conversations on work and weather dried up. It usually involved me trying to keep pace with the multiple faces in print and being very pleased with myself if I could identify at least two of them by the last page. “Ah! this is your father’s uncle’s brother who studies in Anand”, I would say, and my host would beam in approval.
Chai in a Saucer
I held the saucer with both hands, balancing the tea on it precariously as I tried to make it reach up to my lips. Bemused smiles all around me made it a little hard, I must admit. “Does everyone in Delhi drink in cups?” asked the Balsena kid whose house I was visiting, as I nodded in affirmative. Tea – which one has multiple times a day in this region, is poured directly into the saucer and sipped from it. Distinctly sweet, and made slightly milkier, the Kathiawadi tea or chai is had directly from the saucer. “It cools as we drink. Much more effective than cups”, announced a colleague, holding the saucer with one hand. Over time, I’ve mastered the trick of figuring out how much tea can I hold in the saucer effectively. It’s an art really. I am definitely going to miss the endless cups of tea.
The cow began to move faster towards us, as we quickened our pace. “Well, at least we know the vegetables smell fresh”, I told my Co-Fellow, as we walked faster with four bags of vegetables swinging from our wrists. We had gone to the local vegetable market and I had been a bit too excited about seeing the fresh produce (as I often do with food). The result was a bit of everything – enough supplies to last us a week of entertaining colleagues at home, though that was not in any plan. The cow didn’t approve of this plan clearly, for when I turned around next, I saw her running towards us with speed. “Run!” I screamed, as we tried to sprint ahead. Luckily common sense prevailed, and I was quick to avert a cow attack by hurling a packet of spinach in the cow’s direction. As she ate, we flagged down an auto and escaped. “Should have thrown the radishes”, I thought to myself as we heaved a sigh of relief. “Next time throw water at the cow. She’ll go away”, explained my colleague as she heard our tale. It had been quite a “cow’astrophe”!