I visit Trivandrum every time I come to India. It is the capital of the Southern Indian state, Kerala, where my dad’s side of the family is from. I have always loved the descent to the Trivandrum airport, feeling like the airplane is skimming over coconut trees that grow as far as the eye can see, touching down just a stone’s throw away from the Arabian Sea. It is a beautiful place, full of lush greenery, and much less crowded than other cities such as Mumbai. I visited with my aunt and uncle, and was lucky this time that my two cousins were visiting at the same time because their children had summer holidays. I was reunited with the cousin whom I visited in Vizag earlier in my trip, and was excited to spend time with my aunt, uncle, and other cousin whom I hadn’t seen since my brother’s wedding in the US in 2012.
We visited the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, which is one of the richest temples in India. A few years ago, about $20 billion worth of treasures were uncovered in underground vaults in the temple. Only Hindus are allowed to visit the temple, and the dress code is very strict. Men and women must have their legs covered; women wear saris and the men have to wear a mundu (pronounced “mund” which is similar to a sarong, wrapped and tied around the waist, also men cannot wear a shirt). This was my first visit to a temple since I have been in India. It was a Sunday, and there was a huge crowd of visitors to the temple and we waited in line to see the Deity, which was visible through three small doors. It was rather hectic with hoards of visitors trying to get a glimpse of the Deity at the same time. Hindus from all over India make sure to stop at this temple when visiting Kerala. Overall, it was a great experience, and a nice excuse to let my aunt and cousins dress me up in traditional Kerala fashion!
What was of most importance of me during this trip was looking at old photo albums that my aunt and uncle had kept that belonged to my late paternal grandfather. I had only seen a handful of photos from my dad’s childhood, and was curious to see photos of him and his family when they were younger. What I uncovered was a myriad of invaluable photos from my grandfather and father’s youth.
I spent hours poring over hundreds of black and white photos, taking pictures of the photos with my camera to send to my family back home. This was hands-down one of the best things I have done on this India trip. It has become increasingly important to me to learn where I come from, and these photos were a window into my roots.
It also meant the world to me to see photos of my dad’s eldest brother, who died at age 21 in a tragic jeep accident while serving in the Indian Army in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 1972. We only had a few photos of him at my parents’ house, and in the past few years my interest in knowing more about him has grown. He was a loving son and brother who did everything to take the burden of providing for the family off of his father’s shoulders and place it on his own. A few years ago my dad brought back his diaries and letters my grandfather had kept, and I read through them all. At the age of 21, he was wise beyond his years. Through his diaries, letters, and the stories my dad and aunt told me, I feel a closeness to my uncle even though I never had the pleasure of knowing him. I think we would have gotten along great.
“I am glad that if not anybody else, I have pleased one soul in this world, and that is God himself; for I have noticed throughout that whatever I have asked him, he has blessed me with; so much so that I sometimes suspect he is partial towards me.” – 2/Lt G.S. Nair, 9 May 1971