This post first appeared on Huffington Post on February 26, 2015.
Last week, I traveled to India with my husband and two young children. My children are 7 and 8 years old and had never been to India before. In fact, it was their first international trip. Personally, I had not been to India since my medical school days, at least 15 years ago.
In the weeks leading up to this unknown, new adventure, my kids were giddy with excitement and anticipation. I was feeling a sense of anxiety and apprehension, for reasons I didn’t even fully understand. Although I had visited India regularly as a child, in the time since my last visit, the country had morphed and evolved into an unknown black box for me. I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know how my children would react to a place that couldn’t be more different from Orange County, California.
We were traveling to India to visit my grandmother, who is almost 90 years old. She lives in a town called Baroda, in the state of Gujarat. We landed in the middle of the night at a small airport in Ahmedabad after a 24-hour journey from Los Angeles, and drove another two hours to Baroda to my grandmother’s home.
Every morning in her home, including this particular morning of our arrival, begins with a cup of tea. The tea is made carefully, lovingly, with hot milk and a mix of ginger, cardamon, mint, and other spices. The making of the tea, and the drinking of the tea, is a daily ritual that sets the pace and tone for each day.
We all savor the tea together, with a variety of crunchy, savory snacks. Once in awhile, my grandmother picks up the newspaper and reads a few pages. But mostly, we sit together, sometimes chatting, sometimes in silence, but always present with each other before the day’s activities begin. Outside, it is still dark. We can hear the beeping of car horns, and the cawing of peacocks and chickens.
Similarly, each afternoon is punctuated by a second cup of steaming, aromatic tea, and often followed by a brief nap. After this respite, people return to the business of the afternoon. During the afternoon tea, friends often stop by to chat or sit together in comfortable silence. Through the sharing of quiet and conversation, food and drink, loving relationships are formed.
Perhaps this is what I felt most powerfully in my grandmother’s home in India -that relationships between people are important, and matter. Cultivating relationships felt just as necessary as getting the day’s work done, cleaning, cooking, and dealing with the usual issues and struggles. The time spent together was not spent in a distracted, harried fashion. No screens to be found. We just spent time together, in the quiet experience of one another.
My children viewed the novel aspects of India with curiosity and delight. The monkeys shaking chickoo fruits from the trees in the backyard. The rickshaw drivers careening in all directions alongside cows and goats and pedestrians and bicyclists and other vehicles. Bathing with a metal bucket full of water and a cup.
What struck me as novel, what I noticed with curiosity and delight, was the twice daily ritual of drinking tea together, fully present. In the sharing of our tea, I felt loved and valued and seen by family members and friends who didn’t need to know anything about me, other than the fact that I cared to be there with them.
Prior to my trip, when was the last time in my life where I provided someone with my full, undivided time and attention? Made them feel, in that moment, like our time together was all that mattered? When was the last time I shared rituals like drinking tea with family and friends?
This had been forgotten in my busyness. Now I remember. I am grateful for my grandmother, who reminded of the beauty of something so simple, yet so rare — the grace in being wholeheartedly present with each other.