If you are very lucky, you may someday find yourself in the boyhood home of Ajay Kumar, in the little village of Rasool Pur, India. Rasool Pur is northeast of New Delhi, on a long, hard road to Rishikesh. Ajay was raised in this home until he left for the big city. Ajay’s mother still lives on the farm, in the home built by Ajay’s dad. Ajay’s brother lives there, too, with his wife and kids. On their farm, they grow what they need for the family.
Ajay’s mother may be 65 or 70. Birthdays weren’t counted. She greeted me with a hug. I was shown a chair by the fan in their open air kitchen. We were served betha, a rich, spicy, slightly sweet masala made with pumpkin. We had fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and a potato dish. Naan appeared, hot from a fire that I never even saw as we were shown around the farm. A second piece of naan came just as we finished the first. We drank a cold, spiced buttermilk, courtesy of the the two cows tied in the yard. Dessert was a cold cream of wheat called sojji (or sooji or suji, my notes don’t seem clear).
The meal was followed by family photos, just like in the rural Indiana town where I grew up. Then Ajay’s mother walked us to the car. I couldn’t understand one word she spoke that day, but her message was clear as she took my face in her hands, “Come back any time. You are always welcome here.”