A visit to Sydney was long overdue for me….almost 20+ years overdue. So, it was important that this city was part of our around the world trip itinerary.
I was very young when both my Dad’s elder brothers along with their families moved to Sydney from India (1985 and 1990-91). I don’t remember much but I do remember those lazy afternoons, after school, playing random games with my girl cousins, Nidhi and Pooja. I don’t have many early memories of my other two cousins — Nimish and Sonia, as I was still in diapers when they set off for Australia.
To me, Australia was such a far away place that I could barely comprehend. I didn’t know anything about it and so I always wondered what my cousins lives were like. What kind of games they played? What school they went to? What their friends were like? What kind of food they ate..I mean did they eat meat?? Were there other Indians who lived there? HA!
Time passed…. I saw them infrequently..only when they visited India every few years. When I turned 18 and left India to study in the US, I saw even less of my cousins and my aunts and uncles. Our trips to India almost never coincided with each other.
Lately, I have been lucky. Just in the last 4 years, I have been able to see all four cousins! I saw Nidhi and Pooja (who now live in London) about 3.5 years ago when they visited New York during New Years. It was probably the first time the Gupta sisters hung out together in 10-12 years…Surprisingly, it didn’t feel strange…they were the same girls I grew up with..fun, lively and carefree. We caught up on our lives and partied till late!
I met my other cousin, Nimish and his wife, Nikki in NYC during their around the world travel journey two years ago. I remembered him as a shy little kid when he visited India by himself one summer vacation. It was strange to see him grown up and with a wife now. Talking to them that night while eating dinner at a mexican restaurant in the city might have planted the seed of this madness that Dan and I are on now. (Thanks for inspiring us, Nim and Nikki!). I met Nimish’s sister, my oldest cousin, Sonia during our wedding 2 years ago. I probably hadn’t seen her in over 20 years. She now lives in San Francisco with her husband and two of the cutest little kids – Saira and Rohan. She was an instant hit at the wedding! I never knew she was so lively and full of energy. Talking and hanging out with her felt like I had known her for years.
On our trip, we got a chance to meet their parents in Sydney. We stayed the first few days with my aunt, Santosh and uncle, Rakesh. She surprised us with awesome homemade Indian food everyday. She cooked all my favorite foods from when I was a kid – gulab jamun, aalo paranthas, besan ladoo! I was in heaven every meal!! Dan was gorging himself with paranthas and desserts like it was the end of the world. Last few days, we stayed with Nimish’s parents – Aunt Usha and Uncle Vijay. She cooked up some amazing Indian meal consisting of kadi pakoda (one of my other favorites!), matar paneer, home-made dips..yumm! One night, Dan and Vijay got out the grill and fired up fresh veggies and chicken skewers. Dan and Uncle Vijay ‘tried’ two or three of the 120+ bottles of wine that Nimish had won in a contest while dueling at billiards. I wonder why their games got progressively worse 😉
I found out that my cousin Nimish and his wife have a real knack for design and photography while visiting their new home. It was beautiful..very cozy and personalized with Nimish’s photographs from their travels, art, and her late grandfather’s artifacts.
Both the families spent a lot of time with us and I got to know more about their lives in Sydney every passing day. We shared stories and jokes from the past..I got to see the houses and the rooms my cousins grew up in. Their photos on the walls from– a birthday party, a summer picnic and a wedding told me the stories I missed out on all through these years. It made me smile when I saw the same books I read on their book shelves. I was happy that I was finally learning about them and discovering part of their childhood that I didn’t spend with them… I even learnt things about my Dad (when he was a kid) from his older brothers …like how he loved to cook, and although he was hard working but he liked to party too.
In those moments, looking at my cousins pictures on the wall, and eating scrumptious Indian foods and being with family..Australia felt strangely familiar..like home where I grew up.