From Rags to Riches

It’s definitely been a rough couple of days in the health department for me and today is no different. It is March 10th and we would like to travel to Sanford’s friend’s home to visit for a few days. Their home, in Khanna, is about 2 – 3 hours away by bus. I woke up nauseous but I was ready to go. My hope is that I might get better with some home cooking and being in a restful environment.

About 15 years ago, Sanford was working in the mushroom plant in Portage la Prairie and it is there that he met and became friends with Pintu, an engineer specializing in mushroom growing, who was from India.   It is to Pintu’s father’s (the patriarch) house we are going.

The patriarch picks us up from the bus station and we are driven to a stately “villa” just on the outskirts of Khanna. The widowed patriarch shares the home with his second son, his son’s wife, and a grandson. He has several maids,

Servant's quarters
Servant’s quarters

groundskeepers, farm hands, and a cook. All staff is Hindu and most of the staff come from the city but the lead farm hand, along with his wife and four children, live in the servant quarters on the corner of the property. We have gone from low-end hostals/hotels to the lap of luxury.

The villa
MedicationI am quite ill and just rest. When the son came home from work, he took me to the doctor and I am presently on three different medications plus have some pills in case of fever. I am to only drink boiled water, to eat plain food, and should have yogurt. It did not cost me anything to see the doctor and the medication I was given for a 5-day course came to $3.20.

As I write this blog, we have now been here for six days. I am finally feeling better. I have been well taken care of with a steady stream of fresh, nutritious food. The patriarch grows most of what we eat so all food is fresh.

Khanna is not a tourist city, there are no attractions, so we have whiled away the hours visiting with the family, reading, contemplating our navels, and gone for a few walks.

Here are a few impressions.

The family we are staying with is a very well to do Sikh family and it has been interesting to sit and observe daily life and interactions. They are very family orientated. On an adjoining property live the patriarch’s brother and his wife, plus their son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. Across from their home lives a nephew of the patriarch’s deceased wife and across the road lives another brother of the patriarch.

Each morning the maids clean, dust, sweep and wash all rooms. All beds are made, all clutter put away and all bathrooms polished. Any dirty laundry is washed daily. The grounds people clean the outside sitting area, sweep and wash the stones, tend to the gardens and grass. The farm hand has crops to look after and cows to milk. The cook makes sure she has what she needs from the garden and prepares all food fresh. We have two main meals a day. The morning meal is at 10:30 AM and the evening meal around 8:30 PM. There is often chai tea and biscuits around 4 PM.

The elderly patriarch spends his days reading the paper, resting, overseeing the staff and takes care of any personal issues that need attending. The patriarch’s son is a lawyer and the daughter-in-law an English teacher so they are at work all day. The cook is also employed to provide daycare for their three-year-old son.

Childcare is totally a woman’s job. The daughter-in-law has told me that she is completely responsible for her son until he is 21. As soon as she is home from work she spends all her time tending to his needs. The father interacts with the son as well but it is definitely the daughter-in-law to take care of things. The daughter-in-law of the relative next door tends to spend all her time here with her son.  The two daughter-in-laws watch their children and talk throughout the evening. Interestingly, the farm hand’s four children play with the Sikh children and there seems to be no issue with this but the farm hand’s wife is no where to be seen.

All the male relatives congregate as well and sit and chat, have chai or some liquor, snack, read the paper, etc. They generally stay until supper and then head home.

The men eat separate from the women and children. I have no idea when the daughter-in-law and her son eat their meals. As a matter of fact they are not around at mealtime at all. It is the patriarch’s son who sets the table and puts the food, prepared earlier in the day by the cook, on the table. They sit and eat their meals, take the dishes to the sink, and put the food back in the kitchen. The next morning the maids wash the dishes.

That is the typical day from morning to night.

This and That:

  • We walked into town a few times and to get there we have to walk through a slum area. What a contrast from where we are staying. It is difficult to see. There are some tents and there is some very poor housing. There is garbage everywhere. There is a bit of a dugout with water where they bathe and this watering hole is shared with the pigs in the area. There are lots of children around and you just know how bleak their future is.
  • Because Khanna is not a tourist town, I don’t think there are many white people who pass through. This became evident as we often had groups of people stop and stare at us as we walked by. Kids often shouted “hello” but I sure felt conscious of whatever I was doing knowing all eyes were on us.
  • There was an interesting meeting here one afternoon. A group of family and friends were arriving, as well as some members of another Sikh family. Once all people were in attendance, there was refreshments and conversation. Apparently it was a gathering for one of the patriarch’s family members to meet the family of a proposed bride. The groom does not know anything about the potential bride at this point, not even what she looks like, and in speaking to him afterwards, it appears to be quite a stressful process. I do not know how the meeting went.
  • On one of our walks downtown, an elderly couple on a motorcycle stopped and asked us where we were headed as we were going down a closed road. We were in fact just exploring and not lost but we chatted for a few minutes and next thing you know they invited us in for tea. Tea turned into water, puris (deep-fried breads), raita and channa dal. Other younger family members showed up and we had a wonderful social gathering, exchanged emails, etc. This is one of the meet-the-locals events that make travel so worthwhile.
  • Surprisingly the villa does not have any plumbing for showers and I have yet to see a bathtub in southeast asia. To shower, it is with a bucket of water and a cup. I have to tell you that I can take a pretty decent shower with only about 2 gallons of water!
  • There is a scale here in the barn to weigh wheat and one day the patriarch took Getting weighedSanford and I there so we could weigh ourselves. I was curious to see how much less I would be after being so sick. When I got on the scale he commented I was heavy for a woman and was 80kg. I was thrilled as 80 kg is 176 lbs and means I am presently 4 lbs less than when I left Canada. To me 80 kg was amazingly good. Sanford was 77 kg; I look forward to the day I weigh less than him.
  • As far as weight goes, there are a lot of people of all different sizes here; I don’t feel that I stand out in anyway from the average. The patriarch weighed us the morning of the meeting re the arranged marriage and I found it interesting that during a lull in the conversation he felt inclined to tell the whole group that “Maggie is a heavy woman, she weighs 80kg.” Not sure what I’m supposed to say to that…..

Tomorrow we are off to Jalgaon which is in the south of India.

This is Mai, one of the maids employed at the villa.  Every morning she would come and give me a big hug!!  She was my favourite.
This is Mai, one of the maids employed at the villa. Every morning she would come and give me a big hug!! She was my favourite.
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3 thoughts on “From Rags to Riches

  1. You look too thin to me. Likely because be sick is not the best way to lose weight. In the weighting picture the man seems to have a white mask on. Why is that?

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    1. Hi Linda, I think partly why I might look too thin is that my clothes are quite baggy. At 176 lbs, according to the BMI index I am at the very top of the overweight category. I totally agree that losing weight through sickness is not the way to go. I’m not even sure if weight lost that way will stay off once I begin eating properly again. Time will tell.

      The man with the white mask was the patriarch and on that particular day he was expecting guests for the arranged marriage meeting. the mask is actually two pieces, one covering the lower part of his face and one part covering between the lip and nose. I asked him what it was for and it was a “vanity” thing. The lower part of the mask is keeping his beard close to his face, so he doesn’t have any whiskers out of place and the upper part is for the moustache.

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