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Indian Homestay

By Caroline Park

            As our names were called out by our trip leader, Megan and I stepped out of the bus and were greeted by two Indian men.  They introduced themselves somewhat stiffly and one explained to us that we were to go with the other but would rejoin him and the girls he was hosting later that day.  Our official host ushered us to a Honda and the driver of the car jumped out and took charge of our belongings.  We all got into the car and joined the other speeding rickshaws, mopeds, and smog emitting buses in the streets of Chennai. 

            The drive was short.  Our car slowed down as we approached a solid red gate with spiral gold designs.  Two guards stood up from their chairs as they saw our car to open the gates for us.  An elderly vendor was selling grapefruit from a wooden cart that was slowly splintering into pieces.  A woman with skin as dark as mocha chocolate was holding a baby with weathered hands extended, desperate to score a couple of coins from the foreigners who were about to enter the exclusive gates.  But our car grimly passed by into the driveway and the gate was shut behind us. 

            The floor was shining but cold beneath our feet as we took our first step into a real Indian home.  The home we stepped into was of another world than the one we had just left behind the iron gate.  Only hints of the sunlight shown through the bamboo curtains hanging outside the balcony made it through into the living room but it was clear that the home was clean and well kept.  As we entered the home, our hostess, the mother of the home, greeted us with smiles.  She invited us to sit on a spotless couch and called out to a faceless someone in the kitchen to bring us refreshments.  A moment later a man appeared with orange juice on a tray.  After handing us our drinks, he disappeared once again into the kitchen.  As we made small talk about where we were from and why we were in India and such, I noticed out of the corner of my eye another man with a rag in hand.  He went from window to window, to cabinet to cabinet, dusting and cleaning. 

            In her essay “Madurai Lives” Sara Dickey depicts the live of the Indian urban poor.  Regarding labor, she says “Labor is divided by gender.  Household work is done by women includes cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, buying food, carrying water, and childcare” (Dickey 24).  I found it surprising that in my host family’s home this was not entirely true.  Although my host mother was the main housekeeper, she spent relatively less time in the kitchen while her servants took care of most of the housework.  The cook and the cleaner were both male.

            All in all, I can say I had a wonderful time in India with our gracious and hospitable hosts.  But I couldn’t help but notice the discrepancy between our homestay hosts and their servants.  Our interport lecturer had warned us that India was a land of contrast.  I found it to be truly so. 

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