i walked with my fellow travellers as we disappeared, one by one, into our homestays, excitement on the tongue but fear in the stomach. down the lane, through the gate and the low doorway, and into my home-- and here, my family all waiting for me, excited (?) and nervous (?) as i. broad smiles and frequent nodding, hands pressed together at the heart over and over in greeting and thanks-- the first evening passed quickly, in awkwardness and eager goodwill. mataji is the beloved ruler of the household, taking care of her four children (my big sisters, shalu and tuni; then essu--also older than me-- and the irrepressible little brother rishu) with an astonishing strength; they adore each other overwhelmingly. and over the next days, the slow magic of human relationship transformed our relationship--discomfort and otherness into easy intimacy. eveningtime we sit together on the big bed they all share in the house's central room; my sisters have a common mania for photography and i have seen the family history back to their mother's childhood (look at mama--she's so beautiful! the most beautiful of her friends-- pointing to her among the other sari-wrapped schoolgirls in a black-and-white photo). every evening tuni helps rishu to study for his exams (social studies and maths over now, english and hindi still to come) with endless, quiet patience--until his fourteen-year-old energy can take no more sitting, and he jumps up to bounce around the room, making absurd faces or singing songs, teasing his sisters endlessly. shalu painted my fingernails and told me about her studies, her cousins, her clothes, her puja; i showed them pictures of my home. they let me help them roll dough for roti, laughing at the irregular shapes of mine.
saturday was holi. for twenty-four hours the streets of banares went mad, a riot of color-- men danced and drank bhang and threw neon powder until faces and skin and clothing were unrecognizable, lighting gigantic fires on the street corners. women stayed at home, and i spent the day with my sisters-- we cooked traditional holi sweets (dry milk and fruits wrapped in pastry, deep-fried in ghee) and watched the celebrations from the rooftop. that evening the men returned to their homes and the children came out-- walking from house to house to recieve candy and blessings, drawing bright lines of tikka on the foreheads of their elders, touching their feet. shalu whispered something to one of the groups of children, and when it was my turn for tikka they attacked me instead, rubbing yellow and purple and pink and green into my hair and over my cheeks and forehead.