Begin Again

When my father received the call to come to the United States, he sold his home for 22,000 rupees, 1/3 of which went to the property landowner. The $339, which is now equivalent to about $794, in addition to the money that he saved from diamond cutting was used to purchase a plane ticket for himself and his youngest brother, Kalidas. He left the rest of his money back home for his family in the village. 

Just a couple of months later they landed in the Chicago O’Hare International Airport in May of 1985. My father arrived with just $20 in his pocket in the midst of a recession.

My father, now 30 years old, was starting off with a blank slate, much like he had when he was 17 years old and left his village for the first time. However, this time, he was in a different country, did not speak the language, and had no idea how he was going to make a living.

The two brothers lived with their older brother, Devkaran Bhai, who had done so well in school that he received a pharmacy work visa to come to the United States. He was the first family member to come, and after he filed the paperwork for my father and uncle, they filed the paperwork for the rest of family to come to the US. 

Because it was the summer and so hard to find a job, my father cleaned his brother’s home and repainted the walls. It was the least he felt he could do in exchange for living with them. When telling me this story, he told me he had no idea what paint or primer was before starting this project. He had not even known something like this existed. Just as anything else had done in his life, he figured it out as we went. 

In his first weeks in the United States, Devkan Bapa showed my father an advertisement in the Gujarati newspaper called the Gujarati Samachar. The advertisement was for an opening at a Dunkin Donuts in Madison, Wisconson. Without any knowledge of how to get there, he knew he would figure it out. The weather was still nice, so he walked to the train station and took a train to Madison. 

When my father arrived at the Dunkin Donuts a couple of hours later, he saw that the man at cash register was also Gujarati. 

“Is there a job available?”, my father asked in Gujarati.

“Yes, but who brought you here [to this country]? Who are you with?”, The store owner replied.

Honestly, my father told him that his brother is a pharmacist and that he lives with in one of the Chicago suburbs. My father thought his chances were high because this was another Gujarati man and he thought the man would understand his situation. The owner, however, took this as a negative sign. He thought my father would end up leaving, thinking his brother would be able to give him a job later down the road. 

My father ended up going back to Chicago empty handed but learned a very valuable lesson. He knew he could not lie, but at the same time knew he must not tell more than is required. Although his brother had brought him to the United States, at the end of the day, his situation and life were independent of his brother's. He had always had good intentions, but knew in order to make it in this country, he would need to be conscious of his every interaction. 


After leaving Surat in 1981, my father went to Bombay to see if he could try his luck at the diamond industry there. This time, my mother left their village and went with him. They lived in a one-room home that my father had bought for just 3,000 rupees (equivalent to 60 USD). My father saved long and hard to buy their first home, knowing early on he needed to buy a home rather than rent it. 

The home they lived in was attached to a series of other homes in a small alleyway with a communal bathroom at the end. 

While I was staying in India in 2016, I went to Bombay to see where my parents had once lived. I was intrigued by their story, and at this point had slowly been compiling information and stories of their lives and our ancestral villages for eight years. It was time for me to get out of Gujarat and see the other places they had once lived. 

The only evidence I previously had was hearing their stories and spending time in the villages they were raised. Growing up, my mother told me stories of one of her closest friends, Jyotsana, during her time living in Bombay. She told me that until recently her friend was living in Ganeshnagar, the part of Bombay that they had all once lived. In the recent months Jyotsana Aunty, her son, and husband had relocated to a flat nearby.  

I gave Jyosana Aunty a call when I reached India and she was happy to hear from me. I was staying with a friend across the city, so I took the busy train about 45 minutes to reach the station closest to where they lived. 

I crossed the busy roads and walked for about 10 minutes until I reached a smaller road. Unfamiliar with the city and where I was going, I asked a rickshaw driver where their flat complex was. He pointed me in the direction of the very flat we were standing in front of.  As I approached the building, I saw a woman looking out at me from one of the floors above. 

The door opened as I walked up the stairs, and the same woman from the window opened the door and greeted me, half smiling, recognizing who I was. She was in her late 50’s, about the same age as my mother. I could feel her happiness as she looked at me, and told me I looked like my mother and that I had grown so much. 

It had been more than two decades since she last saw me. I was just a baby when my mother had brought me and my sisters there, promising to come back again soon. My mother kept in touch with her old friend, like she did with many others, but hadn’t been able to see her in so many years. 

For my mother, there was always a yearning to go back, but like many immigrants, life began moving and other priorities took hold.   

Now, almost 22 years later, I was back, but this time alone and searching for answers. I knew I wanted to know more about my parent’s journey, but I wanted to go deeper than just listening to stories. I wanted to see where it started and hear stories from others, even if the people and places had changed drastically over time. 

I was also at a period of my life where I was curious about my own position in the world. I had just finished walking 1,000 kilometers across Spain alone. I had left Spain to go to London, and then finally landed in Bombay. The day I reached India, the airport was buzzing. It was the day the government of India had decided to remove all 500 and 1000 rupee notes. I was only carrying 1,000 rupees at the time, and I waited in a long line before I could get just enough change for the 1,000 to make it to my friend’s home. 

I could have landed in Ahmedabad where my family members or close friends would have picked me up and helped me get working currency. However, amidst this, I knew I was there for a reason and I had to be there now, at that period of my life. I was still traveling around the world, open to discovering the mysteries of the things I didn't yet know. This discovery inspired me to question how my parents had been able to get out of poverty while so many of the friends they once had in Bombay were either still living in Ganeshnagar or were struggling to make a living. My parents called it luck. However, soon after visiting Bombay I began to call it serendipity. 

As I walked into the flat, I looked to the right and saw a man sitting on one of the cots. He smiled at me, also recognizing who I was. My mother had told me that her friend’s husband had a stroke many years earlier, leaving him paralyzed from one side, unable to properly walk, hear, or speak. He recognized me as I walked in the door and kneeled to say ‘Jay Shree Krishna’. 

Within 10 minutes of being there, she told me my parents had always been there if someone was in need. Usually, I asked for stories up front, but she began telling me exactly what I had been thinking to ask. She continued to tell me that they gave their time, emotions, and love. In Gujarati, she said, “Your mother tells me that you come here to work in India. That you want to give…you parents were always doing something for others…the same goon [characteristic] has also come within you”.  

I could see that she had anxiously and enthusiastically been waiting for my arrival. I later realized that my mom and she were close friends, and she hadn’t had a friend closer than my mom before. It was abnormal for me to imagine as my mom hadn’t kept many close for most of my life. It struck me that she had a close group of friends long before my sisters and I were born. 

After a couple of minutes of my arrival, Jyotsna Aunty called her son who was at the work, to make sure he was coming home early. She also called her daughter, Chaku, who lived far away and was married with children. Since my parents were without children at the time, my father played and took care of their daughter often, so she wanted to know her daughter knew that I was there. 

She brought out old pictures, most of which I had never seen before. In one of the albums were solo pictures of my parents. Worn out over the decades, they weren’t in pristine condition, but I could see my parents in their younger years in them. In one of the photos, my mother was laughing at something, looking out into the distance. I asked my mother’s friend if I could take the photo, but she seemed to not like the question. It was obvious she had valued their friendship and that that was a special time in her life. I took a picture of the photos and slipped them back into the album, continuing to look at the other photos. 

I asked her if we could go to Ganeshnagar to see where they had once lived. We walked alongside cars, rickshaws and vegetable vendors along the busy street and crossed the road, still buzzing with afternoon activity. It took us about fifteen minutes to reach a road that had small alleys left and right, busy with daily activity as mothers washed clothes and children ran along the street playing. 

As we weaved in and out of alleyways, she told me my father had gone into a partnership for a small diamond cutting business. He had even put some money together but was unable to follow through because he received the visa call to go to the United States. I was surprised to hear this because my father had never mentioned this to me. Also, because I realized that all he had been working towards had almost come true only for him to have to leave and start over again. I couldn’t help but think the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. 

We arrived at a small alley and walked to the end of it. On the left side, a door to one person’s home was open. I peered into the home where one light dimly lit the small room where the people living there cooked, slept, and ate. Jyotsna Aunty pointed to the door across the alley and said that is where my parents used to live. The door was closed and locked as the occupants must have gone out for the day. 

I clicked a few pictures for memory but spent more time taking in the sounds and sights. I could see a large temple towering behind the alleyway. A new temple, they told me, to honor Lord Shiva. I looked down the alleyway from the end where the communal bathroom was to see clothes pinned to lines and women peering out of their homes. I listened to the chattering close by and the honking of rickshaws in the distance. 

As we walked out, Jyotsana Aunty told me that my mother and she had been closest to another friend. However, that friend had moved on. Their other friend’s husband was the one who was supposed to go into business with my father. However, after my father left, he continued with the business and ended up becoming a wealthy merchant. They now live in one of the most affluent flat complexes nearby. After being blessed with their newfound socioeconomic status, their other friend stopped communicating with them. There was a pause as I observed a sadness in her eyes. 

As we walked back to her home, I listened to stories I had never heard before. In many ways, they weren’t what I expected to find, but to be honest, I didn’t know what I was looking for. I was struck with the rawness and honesty of my encounter with Jyotsana Aunty and her family. That evening after dinner, I felt grateful to have stood amidst the reality of her life and the life my parents lived before. As the sun went down and I boarded the train, I couldn't help but feel the distance of a thousand miles again, separating her life and mine. 

That day, I was reminded of the depth of my ancestral roots, and how far I have yet to go to uncover the stories that in many ways, have led to where I and my current generation are today. 

Blind Faith

It wasn’t rare for my father and I to have deep, spiritual discussions after lunch or dinner. On the days I spend at home, as I have gotten older and as my father has aged, it is often that he expresses his concern for the next generation. His eyes stare off into the distance as he chews his food silently and thinks. Sometimes I ask him what he is thinking about and he bluntly says nothing, I am eating, or other times he will tell me. When he is thinking about something, it is about the next 100 years. I won’t be here, he tells me, but I will do everything in my power as long as I am alive to make sure you three don’t have to struggle. 

My father has often said the great thinkers don't think about the next 5 or 10 years. The greatest thinkers, he tells me, look 50, 100, or 200 years into the future. They think long-term about the health of society. 

To understand my father- his beliefs, his tone of voice, his personality, you must know his core, the person he was even as a child and the struggles he faced in the process of becoming an adult.

Each morning, he awoke to the sound of peacocks and the rustling of water buffalo at 4 AM. His routine consisted of collecting the buffalo droppings and taking them to a pile in front of their home. Their home, nestled on the top of a hill, was one room, and like most of the homes of their village during that time, it was made of mud and buffalo droppings which kept the the home cool in the Indian heat. 

He then walked to the river carrying a clay pot on top of his head. Sometimes, when recalling his childhood, my father has shown me a crease in the back of his head, attributed to the many years carrying heavy loads on his head from the age of five. Most days that he walked to the river, he came across a bhagati, a woman who devoted her life to God and lived her life as his wife. Each morning he saw her bathing in the Sabarmati river at 3 AM. His interactions with her were limited, and he continued with his day after seeing her. After his walks to the river, he walked 4 miles to the nearby villages, Moyad and Piludra. This is where he would drop the day’s milk from the buffalo.

From the time he was six or seven years old, he went to the farm to work. Certain days he and his siblings chased the birds away who often ate away at the crops. Carrying a metal lid and stick, they made loud noises to scare the birds away. 

During monsoon season, they trudged along the dirt path towards the farm or school, in knee deep water and their tattered clothing. The brown muddy waters overtook their shoeless feet and soaked them from head to toe. It wasn’t until my father was 25 years old that he bought his first pair of actual shoes. 

By the time he finished the work, the sun has already risen and it is almost time to get ready for school before it started at 9:30.

After arriving at school, the teacher sometimes asked the students if they had taken a shower before coming. The students who didn’t raise their hands and the teacher sent them to the river to take a shower. 

After school, my father would walk four miles again to fetch fresh water from the Sabarmati River, once again carrying the clay pot on top of his head. By the time he ate and finished his school work, it was dusk and he needed a candle to finish his work. In the evenings, he studied with a candle alongside his khatlo, cot, next to where his eight siblings slept in a line. He remembers falling asleep one night while the candle burned and fell over on the cot. He was so tired that he had forgotten about it, only to wake up just in time before it caught on fire.

As I grew up, I was touched by my father’s stories. At times, he told them plainly, as if his childhood was normal (I guess because this was normal in the world he grew up in). Most times, however, he recalled the stories with pain. I often felt my father was jaded by the world because of his childhood experiences. 

Growing up in a chaotic household with so many mouths to feed, there wasn’t enough food for everyone some days. It wasn’t poverty that was an issue, my father would tell me, rather it was how people treated you. Poverty isn’t just about physical security, it is the psychological pain which stays with you for the rest of your life, he would tell me. 

As a child, he was obedient and hardworking, but angry, stubborn, and always searching for something to believe in. He cursed and threw stones at the Brahmins, priests, who came under the guise of Hinduism only to ask for free handouts. He despised blind faith and the fact that villagers bought into superstition, believed in rituals and prayers meant for a certain God who never seemed to come.

He didn’t know how people could pour so much money and faith into the temple, a building, while a person sat right next to it, starving for food. He knew early on that God isn’t in the temple, he is within. He wanted to shake people out of this illusion and tell them they won’t find it through rituals and offering quelms to the temple. 

He had a moral compass from a young age that believed in fighting evil. My grandmother, his mother, once told him it was okay to go to someone else’s farm and take some crops. Although she was speaking out of fear of not being able to feed all her children, he knew it wasn’t right. 

He gave into his hot temper when he saw wrong, once even punching a grown man in the face for saying something rude. Growing up, he knew if what he was saying was right, others would one day come to know as the truth as well.

In the Land We Trust

For fourteen years after her marriage, my mother labored in the farms, cooked and cleaned alongside her sister-in-laws, and tended to other household duties. She woke up at 4 AM and fed sticks to the crackling morning fire and cleaned up the buffalo droppings from the night before. In the village during that time, most farmers had cow stalls in front of their homes. It was normal to go about day to day activities, cooking, cleaning, as the buffalo out front watched you. At that time, my father’s home had ten water buffalo and 2 oxen. 

My mother picked the droppings, placing them into a metal basin which she then carried on top of her head. Often because there was so much, she took up to ten trips, adding to the growing mound of poop behind the home where a Limbro (curry) tree stood tall. Lili Ba, the wife of my father’s oldest brother, Chota Bapa, often took turns doing certain chores with my mother. One person made breakfast for the rest of the home: chai and rotla, flat bread. Using fresh milk from the buffalo, chai was made in a big pot with masala and sugar tossed in. Rotla was also made from scratch using flour that was ground from corn that was grown on the farm. My mother would take the small ball of dough and slap it between her hands to make a thick, corn rotlo, or bread. Atop the crackling fire, a flat rusty red skillet cooked the rotlo while the other person did the dishes and mopped. Using dirt and water, the pots and pans were cleaned with pieces of grass or hay, a traditional way to scrub and clean the dishes. One person would then wash the clothes, beating them with a wooden stick atop a flat rock so soap and water oozed out. She would then hang them on the clothesline in front of the house. 

After my mother’s morning routine, she walked to the kundor, the bank of the river which was a hilly area close to the family farm, where she picked grass for the animals two to three times a day before and after going to farm. Some mornings she also walked to the kuuo, the water well, with maatla, a clay pot to carry the water. In the mornings and evenings, she walked two or three kilometers each way, with the clay pot on top the saari, which loosely hung over her head, covering part of her face. 

After fetching water, my mother walked the four kilometers along the dirt path towards the farm. Often, she took the neighbor’s lunch, who may have left earlier in the morning. She took her own lunch as well, the rotlo she had just made that morning with a hot pepper and gor (jaggery), all wrapped in a handkerchief. Once she reached the farm each day, she walked towards the Mahuro, a tree known for making the state’s illegal liquor, where she tied her handkerchief and took a short break before starting her work. 

For the almost decade and a half that my mother worked in those fields, she told me there was a magic to working with the soil. Despite what happened at home and the cloudiness or pain she felt after, it all seemed to disappear as she dug her hands into the earth. 

Man did everything manually during this time from farming, grinding flour to fetching water. My mother, up until she left for the United States, witnessed the changes slowly taking place within families, the villages, and farms as outside influence changed even their most basic farming practices.

Work wasn’t easy. There was a common saying, which loosely translated from Gujarati: "we used to die in the fields". Families labored each day, sometimes the elderly, even up until they died. Like the poor today, there was not much thought for the next years or how to get out of the cycle of endless work.  As my parents so poignantly put it – they could only think about the task at hand and how they could provide the best possible life for their future children.

Most of the immigrants in my mother’s generation who left India for the United States often returned to see the machines that farmers began using after they left. They frequently spoke about how much better life is for the current and next generation of India. As the first wave of immigrants left our samaj, community to go abroad in the 1980’s, money flowed in and out of the villages as relatives sent money from the United States. Now, Patels who once labored the land day after day are prosperous, working less, using tractors, and hiring laborers from the “lower caste” to tend to the land. 

Rather than tractors, ox carts once tilled the land. A man stood at the back of the wooden cart on a piece of long wood with spikes underneath, and two white oxen pulled him forward. Tractors were introduced in the 80’s, automating work to just two or three hours that may have originally taken days complete. 

Vegetables were grown without chemicals and pesticides and unlike today, organic wasn’t a common word as most of the food was already naturally grown. The vegetables continued to sprout season after season. Today, seeds are bought from a major supplier which come from the few big agricultural companies. However, during that time, my mother recalled using seeds from the previous season’s crops. She told me that if a neighbor needed to grow a certain vegetable and they didn’t have that seed, they often exchanged with a neighbor or someone else in the village. These seeds that were exchanged were the very seeds that our ancestors had experimented with for thousands of years. These indigenous seeds were kept season after season and it was customary to trade as needed.  

Now 35 years later, many of the vegetables and grains that were grown and eaten by the community when my mother left for the United States, are no longer grown in our fields. They are either grown elsewhere using genetically modified seeds or not eaten at all.  
After the summers I spent in the farms and villages where my parents were raised, I grew intrigued with the ways they had once labored so fiercely on the farms. From the stories I was told, to what I saw during my summers, I felt there was a difference, in just a few decades, of the way villagers earned a living.  

Although the standard of living had increased with a new ease of life, a new set of diseases were introduced to society. Growing up, my father often told me he didn’t even know what a headache was as he had never experienced one before. The chemically induced vegetables and artificial foods that were introduced created a need for new chemicals. Nature-based remedies made of everyday plants grown in front of the home such as curry leaves and the holy basil plant, tulsi, continued to be worshipped. However, people stopped understanding their healing qualities and the reasons why such plants were to be worshipped. 

Natural remedies were primarily used to cure the body, and ailments were at a minimum as people often ate as much as they needed to fill their stomachs for the hard work they did throughout the day. 

Story after story, it was amazing to hear about the massive changes which took place in such a short period of time. 

As I learned more from the works of modern-day farmers and activists, I began to understand, at a macro level, what was at play and how this trickled down to the community and lands my ancestors had once come from. 

Through the changes I witnessed during my summers and into my adult years going back to India, I learned, at a deeper level, what Vandana Shiva so eloquently articulates through research and her writing in Violence of the Green Revolution. 

The indigenous varieties of seeds began to be replaced with other varieties and with this replacement came broad, but a gradual shift to the communities. In the 1950s a man named Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘a new world situation with regard to nutrition…”. Borlaug’s seeds would speed economic growth in developing countries. These seeds were called ‘miracle seeds’ and were a way to create abundance and economic growth in society. They would “solve problems of material scarcity and violence” (19). 

What was soon called “The Green Revolution”, marked a transformation of agriculture in third world countries. What was overlooked, was that the indigenous practices and exchange of seeds may have been far superior to the Green Revolution itself. Punjab state was seen to be one of the successful experiments of the Green Revolution. “Modernization and economic development may, as in the case of Punjab harden ethnic identities and provoke or intensify conflict on the basis of religion, culture, or race”.  

What emerged as abundance and material wealth in Punjab also resulted in scarcity and conflict. While scientific successes were celebrated, the social evolution of genetically modified seeds and forms of farming created rifts in communities. 

“The Green Revolution was based on the assumption that technology is a superior substitute for nature, and hence a means of producing limitless growth, unconstrained by nature’s limits” (Shiva, 24). 

Because of the proposed superiority of science as opposed to the slow abundance which nature brings, there was a reduction of fertile land and genetic diversity of crops. Beyond the ecological level, at a social and economic level, a new pattern of conflict and embedded mindset of a scarcity of resources emerged. Nature's abundance once was reflected in the mindsets of villagers. 

With this new system, villagers began relying on an external network, slowly dissolving the generations of internal networks their ancestors relied upon. Economics became centralized to genetically modified seeds produced by corporations, leading villagers to not rely on each other for economic sustenance. As a result, other practices began falling apart. 

While states like Madhya Pradesh and Punjab were undergoing vast agricultural changes, Gujarat was one of the last to feel these changes. To this day, seeds are still exchanged amongst farmers in villages, but not for economic sustenance. 

In the 1950s Norman Borlaug created the “semi-dwarf high yielding variety of wheat” and by the 1960s India was adjusting its agricultural policies to accommodate and promote the new seeds. It was known as the New Agricultural Strategy" (62). 

Seeds, although many indigenous to the land of India, were imported by India from other countries. Borlaug's strategy included only one crop wheat and by the summer of 1965, India and Pakistan together had ordered 600 tons of wheat seed from Mexico. In 1966 it spent $2.5 million for 18,000 tons of Mexican Wheat seed.

For about 10,000 years, in villages in Gujarat and all over India, “farmers and peasants had produced their own seeds, on their own land, selecting the best seeds, storing them, and replanting them” (73). The farmers had ownership over their seeds and their livelihood, but when plant breeding arose, the self-renewability and genetic diversity of crops were replaced by uniformity. Slowly, exchanging by gift no longer became customary because villages made the transition to purchasing their own seeds. 

With the creation of genetically modified seeds, there was also the creation of new pests. Pesticide use began increasing and because of automation and the influence of industrialization, a new species of disease arose within the first few years these seeds were introduced. 
With new types of rice, wheat, and crops introduced, many farmers were not used to controlling the new pests that came with the genetically modified seeds. 

Using Punjab as an example, as described in The Violence of the Green Revolution, we can see how these changes took place. 

"As the marginal lands and croplands are homogenized, diversity disappears. Genetic diversity in Punjab has been destroyed by the Green Revolution at two other levels – first by the transformation of mixed and rotational cropping of wheat, bajra, jowar, barley, pulses, and oilseeds into monocultures and multicropping of wheat and rice, and second, by the conversion of wheat and rice from diverse native varieties suited to different soil, water, and climatic conditions…"(83)

With the interconnectedness of nature and the interconnected networks the villagers had once operated with, it was only a matter of time that the rest of nature began suffering from the genetically modified plants. As further explained by Shiva, “Large-scale monocultures of exotic varieties of wheat has turned minor diseases such as Karnal Bunt into epidemic proportions” (88). Once a renewable resource, seeds as they became homogenized, were converted to a nonrenewable resource. To drive the point home, Shiva writes:

“…with each variety usable for only one or two years before it gets overtaken by pests. Obsolescence replaces sustainability. As a textbook on high yielding varieties of crops admits, ‘The high yielding varieties and hybrids have three to five-year lifespan in the field. Thereafter, they become susceptible to the new races and biotypes of diseases and pests.’ The vulnerability of rice to new pests and diseases due to monocropping and a narrow genetic base is also very high” (89).

The new seeds demanded more water and different irrigation practices. They also required additional tilling of the land, resulting in damaged soil. Communities began to experience famine and drought, both due to natural causes and these new farming practices. Large dams were created and corporates began to have even more control over the small farmers. 
From the introduction of these seeds, the ownership shifted from the individual to the government to the corporations. With centralization came homogenization. Without a diverse method and nature of seeds and crops, a scarcity of certain crops resulted. 
Although India had just in 1947 became free of colonial British rule, a new form of colonialization emerged.



Note: Citations embedded in the text are for personal reference for later use when I begin pulling pieces of the book together.

A Heart of Gold

I like to say my journey to India began with my grandmothers, especially my mother’s mother, who had never come to the United States. Much of her life consisted of shuttling between the village she was married into, Moyad, going to the farm and herding the water buffalo. Of what I remember about her, the hardness of her personality yet softness of her embrace almost always stood out. When I returned to India summer after summer, her love enveloped me in kisses all over my face as she held my hands within hers.   

My grandmother, Amba Patel was born in the 1920s in Derol, a village also in the cluster of our family’s Patel samaj, or community. She was the oldest sibling of her three brothers and two sisters, yet by the time she passed away around 95 years old in late summer of 2015, she had outlived all of them besides her youngest brother. At the age of 14, she was married to my grandfather, Mohanbhai Dungarbhai Patel and moved from her paternal village to her marital village, Moyad, which today is 34 kilometers in distance by road. My grandfather, Mohanbhai’s mother died at a young age after his birth, so his father remarried and had two stepsisters and one brother growing up. 

During their marriage and even that of my parent’s the tradition was to take a horse and buggies filled with villagers from the groom’s side to the bride’s side. The villagers from my grandfather's side, Moyad, piled into these decorated buggies and rode the entire way to my grandmother’s village, Derol. The women sang songs and the groom arrived with a dancing entourage and beating drums. Back then, I can only imagine how long it took by dirt road to travel a mere 34 kilometers. 

Prior to her marriage, my grandmother rarely left her village. The journey from my grandmother’s paternal village to ancestral village after wedding must have been like a journey across countries. According to custom, once the bride leaves her paternal village, she will only come back as a guest moving forward. 

After my grandmother’s marriage, my grandfather moved to the city of Ahmedabad, a long journey for that time, but today one which would only take about 45 minutes by car. Mohandada (dada meaning grandfather), was considered to be very intelligent during his time. He knew pieces of English and had even passed the 4th grade, a feat that was uncommon for many young boys and girls in the village at the time. My grandfather became the servant to a wealthy family, often cooking and cleaning for them. 

Roughly around the year of 1948, my uncle or Mama (mother’s brother), Balabhai Mohanbhai Patel, was born and in 1958 (birth years were often estimated as there were no birth certificates recorded for many babies of that time), my mother, Bhikhiben Mohanbhai Patel, was born. 

While my mother was still young, my grandfather returned from Ahmedabad due to his poor health. He had developed corns on his feet, so he did the little farming he could at first. However, he soon stopped and tended to the home while my grandmother tended to the farm and the buffalo. 

Growing up, the gender roles of my grandparents were often reversed as it was my grandfather who, for the most part, taught my mother, Bhikhi, how to cook various dishes and clean the house, and it was my grandmother who earned the livelihood. When my mother was young, she remembers Amba Ba, grandmother, taking the five water buffalo and their babies out to feed on the grass. My mother also remembers her Ba leaving home at 3 AM to walk to the farm, but some nights, even spent the night there so she didn’t have to walk the 3 or 4 kilometers distance early the next morning. 

My grandmother did the plowing work with her own hands and left the rest of the planting to our laborers. Although poor, most families of our caste kept laborers, who were even poorer than we were. The laborers were considered as a family as it was their forefathers who had also worked with us for many generations. 

During my visits to India each summer and even as I spent time in both of my parent’s villages into adulthood, laborers often visited my mom when she came to India. In Moyad, there was always an elderly man in his 80’s who had worked with my father on the farm when he was a child. An elderly woman also almost always visited when my mother came to India as they had worked on the farm together after my mother’s marriage. 

My grandmother was practical, strong, hard-headed, but had a heart as pure as gold. Still with a heart as pure as gold, my grandfather was calm and passive, almost the polar opposite of my grandmother. Land disputes between siblings were common as it was the sons who shared the land and profited from it. When my mother was young, her uncle, my grandmother’s brother, demanded a larger piece of the land. He continued to bother them until finally, my grandmother spoke out. While my grandfather wanted to keep the peace, my grandmother knew it wasn’t right for them to continue harassing them. She was strong and kept the home afloat even through the most difficult challenges.



The Fortune of Water

My father was the middle sibling of nine siblings, born into a small farming village called Sampad. The village lies 22 kilometers southwest of the nearest town, Himatnagar and about 70 kilometers northeast from the nearest and largest city of Gujarat, Ahmedabad. Growing up, my father often told me my ancestors chose the land our village is on because of the abundant Sabarmati River which once flowed next to our village. Today, in our village, the river still flows in after the rainfall during the monsoon season, but is dry the rest of the year. The Sabarmati River is one of the major west flowing rivers of India, running from the Aravalli mountain range in the Udaipur District of Rajasthan and meets the Gulf of Cambay, a bay bordering Gujarat on the Arabian Sea coast of India. 

Much like the nearest city of Ahmedabad, Sampad and the surrounding villages were established on the banks of the Sabarmati River. In Hindu scripture, the Bhagavata Purana, Rishi (Sage) Dadhichi was the son of sage Atharvan and Chiti. His father, Atharvan is said to be the author of Atharaveda, one of the four Vedas. The ancient story tells us Rishi Dadhichi sacrificed his life and his bones for the kind of Dieties and Bhagwan Vishnu to defeat the demon Vritrasura. From his bones, a spear was created to defeat the demon. 

Indra once killed a rishi called Vishwarupa. News of this murder reached Vishwarupa’s father, Tvastha, who performed a yagna, invoked an asura called Vritra, and ordered him to annihilate Indra’s armies. The only weapon with which Vritra could be killed was one made of the bones of Dadhichi, a hermit whose bones had been energized by tapasya. On India’s request to sage Dadhichi abandoned his body and let the devas fashion a weapon with his bones with which Indra killed Vritra. - Indian Mythology, Devdutt Pattanik

From his life, Rishi Dhadhichi symbolizes sacrifice and it is said one of the sites of his ashram was along the Sabarmati River, very close to the present day Sabarmati Ashram, established by Mahatma Gandhi. His ashram was created between the jail and the crematorium along the banks of the Sabarmati River on the site which is where Rishi Dadhichi’s ashram was based. Gandhi believed there was no better place to serve as the basis for his independence movement, making Ahmedabad the center of the Indian independence movement. 

The Sabarmati River legend is that Shiva brought the Goddess Ganga to Gujarat, which created the Sabarmati River (also known as Bhogwa). With rich soil and water close by, this is where our ancestors had established our homes and land to farm. During my summers back to India, I often wondered how our ancestors had come to the land we are in now. Some family members told me our ancestors had walked from Patan, which in present day, is a city in northeastern Gujarat. Others told me we came from the north and settled as servants for a King who was ruling the land at the time. Slowly, as servants, we began accumulating land. Last names during the time were given based on your profession. Patel, from the surname Patidar, literally meaning piece of land. 

The town of Himatnagar was founded by King Ahmed Shah I. He named Ahmednagar (home of Ahmed) after himself, which renamed Himatnagar after prince Himmat Singh by Is Pratap Singh, the Maharaja or kind of Idar. It is during the 1400’s, during the time King Ahmed established Ahmednagar, that it is believed my ancestors came to settle on the land we now call Sampad. 

Much of our history has been lost through time, but stories are still preseved as they are passed down from generation to generation. The history of my father and mother’s lineage had once been recorded by Barots, who were known as the historians of the community. Like Brahmins (include what the system of the Brahmins had looked like and what slowly began to happen) in the community, who traditionally passed down spiritual knowledge, the Barot’s role was to move from home to home, village to village, maintaining track of the lineage of one’s family. Through time, they sustained themselves, much like the Brahmins, from payment of grains and other currencies as they went home to home. During a certain period in the last 100 years, it is believed the Barots stopped coming to our villages. In the mid 1900’s when family members began traveling to local towns and cities to work as servants or factory workers, villagers stopped contributing to Barots. The story goes that the Barots were so fed up with not being valued and paid, they threw all of my family’s books down a well. 

Throughout my father’s childhood, in times of drought, relatives from neighboring villages or goat herders passed through Sampad. Relatives came from neighboring villages like Saibapur and Derol. The relatives from these villages were nestled in the middle of large valleys where water would go down, but never come back up. It became hot and they were unable to provide water to their buffalo. They used this opportunity to walk or come with their buffalo carts, also called ghadoos. Family used the dry season, or the summer, as a time to visit relatives in neighboring villages. They ate and slept in the homes of the relatives and when the winter came, they went back to their homes and tended to their lands. 

Relatives weren’t the only ones to come through or to the village. Herders or nomads from  the state of Rajasthan, north of Gujarat, came through the village. They crossed the Sabarmati River and continued on through to the southwest where it wasn’t as dry and they could find water for the herds. After 4 or 5 months, they would go back to their villages in Rajasthan. 

As the herders from Rajasthan passed through Sampad, they were given grass to feed their cattle. Sometimes the villagers would trade with them. The herders would stay in the farm for 2 nights, tend to it, and their cattle would leave their excrements as fertilizer to help nourish the crops. In exchange, the farmers would give the herders grain and grass to feed their herds.