Editor travels to a whole new world


Photo Courtesy Kishan Patel

Editor Kishan Patel pays close attention to the Brahmins' instructions about the yagna, the spiritual ritual in which Patel took part. Patel went to India in order to be a part of the four hour long yagna to honor his late grandfather's soul.

After 17 hours and 55 minutes, I landed in a new world.

My grandfather, Dahyabhai Madhavalas Patel, passed away on Sept. 15. From Sept. 18-28, I visited India with my eight-year-old cousin, Harsh Patel, to bless my grandfather’s afterlife.

The Arrival

In the car ride to Newark International Airport, my father and uncle warned me of possible thugs and dangers in India. If someone caused any problems I should hand them bribes to ensure safety. I was also told to check our passports constantly, because there have been many cases where airport employees rip out their pages in hopes of receiving bribes.

As my bags were checked, an Air India staff member accompanied my cousin,  Harsh Patel, and me through immigration. I was not afraid, but I was concerned. I was not only responsible for myself, I was also responsible for my little cousin who, frankly, isn’t the most mature eight year old.

“Ladies and gentleman, we have arrived in Ahmedabad,” the pilot said.

Immigration wasn’t so easy this time. I was thoroughly questioned as to why I was visiting so suddenly.

The staff member, after escorting us, asked for a bribe. He claimed that my grandmother had to be present to sign off on Harsh, but I knew that wasn’t the case, so I was reluctant to pay. Luckily my family that greeted me at the airport was willing. Around 30-40 family members came to welcome us, and I respectfully touched their feet as a sign of respect.

Riding in the car to my family’s house, I watched the road. I was bewildered by dogs, camels, and cows roaming the streets that we were driving on. There were no driving restrictions whatsoever, but out of habit I put on my seatbelt, an act that made my cousin, Vishal Patel, giggle and say “ABCD,” meaning American-Born Confused Desi, with “Desi” being a word for Indian.

I came home to my other home, literally. Dozens of family members were present to greet me. They had just concluded “bhajan time” which consisted of singing religious songs to Bhagwan (God) so that He would keep my grandfather’s soul with Him.

I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. talking to my family members about my parents and America in general. I was fed traditional food that I disliked, but I ate it anyway because I was starving. The food consisted of baked vegetables and “bhakri”, a type of bread, and I disliked it because the vegetables have different tastes compared to those that I’m used to.

Junior Kishan Patel and his cousin, Vishal Patel, pose in-front of the Sabarmati River. The river is a sacred river, but was recently made into a tourist attraction decorated with lights.

The Week

On the first day, I woke up at 4:45 a.m. because I was jetlagged. In the morning, I’d usually get ready by 7:00 a.m. to do aarti and bhajans for my grandfather. The aarti and bhajans are similar to religious hymns sung to Bhagwan thanking and praising Him. I would talk to my grandmother and comfort her, meet family members and friends, eat lunch, go out with my cousin Vishal and in the evening, bhajans would start again with an average of 60 people coming.

At the end of the three-hour sessions, I’d conclude with a short lecture dealing with charity, love, and equality. All of my family members were deeply touched by these because most “ABCD’s” lose their traditional senses, but my parents have instilled these traditions in me.

It was essential for me to speak because this time period was asking Bhagwan to keep my grandfather’s soul with him, to keep him happy, and to make my grandfather proud and at peace, knowing we all love him.

Sept. 25th — “Let’s bring it back home”

At 5:00 a.m. my grandmother wakes me up shouting “Ut, ut” (get up, get up). This morning was different because I was going back to the village my father had grown up in.

The deserted village barely had any residents. We went to give out food to all the children in the different schools, about 800 kids in total. In Indian tradition, giving to the needy is required by religious scriptures. We also did it in honor of my grandfather, who loved kids.

I entered a single-classroom school for eight kids between the ages of 3-5. I witnessed a child get smacked across the face for not including a classmate in a game.

Apart from discipline, the curriculum surprised me as well. The schools in the village focused more upon respect and honor than any textbook material.

When the elementary school kids learned why I came from America, they came to “paghe lagh,” which is touching a person’s feet to ask for blessings and to give respect to the person. It touched me.

While walking through the schools, I realized how fortunate I was to live in America and how many luxuries I have. The temple in town was right next to the school where I was, so I immediately prayed a prayer of thanks.

The small village only had running water at 5:00 a.m. and wouldn’t have electricity at various times throughout the day. My family still owns the now dilapidated house that my father grew up in.

Junior Kishan Patel brings the ashes of his grandfather to the Sabarmati River, the holy river of Gujarat. Patel carried the remains to send his grandfather away to Bhagwan at the conclusion of the four hour yagna.

Next, we saw the new house that my father had built, hoping to live there after retirement.

“When I was growing up, family came before everything. I’d beat my younger brother when he’d complain because it hurt our parents to hear that. I promised my parents that when they were older they’d have plenty of everything,” my father, Ghanshyam Patel, later said.

Sept. 26th — “Hey, Grandpa”

Today, when I woke up, I saw my grandmother in tears. Today was the day we “called my grandfather back.”

I went to a temple to do special rituals and prayers to call my grandfather’s soul back in order to send him off properly. The yagna, a ritual that may be conducted in different fashions for different occasions, lasted four hours. I had to wear a dhoti, which is a traditional lower garment that looks pretty funky. The yagna went through calling Bhagwan to bless and return my grandfather’s soul so he could have a proper send off.

I paid very close attention to ensure that I did the correct movements, exactly the way the Brahmin, a caste of people who are allowed to perform yagnas and special duties, showed. The conclusion of the ceremony involved sending away my grandfather along the Holy River Ganga (Ganges River). Due to our location, we poured his remains into the Sabarmati River, which is the “Ganges” of Gujarat, the state my family comes from.

I have always been skeptical of the caste system. After my experience, I still do not completely believe in it. According to the old religious scriptures, only Brahmins can perform these yagnas, but I believe that they are just in it for the money. It was evident by the way they were speaking at the yagna.

When the Brahmin stated that Bhagwan is not for the poor, I almost got up and left. I stayed only out of respect for my late grandfather. My father told me that what I think doesn’t matter during these rituals because we must follow the beliefs of my late grandfather.

Sept. 27th — “I’ll always be with you”

The most emotional day of this experience was the final day of the yagna. I sat through a four-hour yagna, except this time hundreds of people came to watch. The Brahmin was different, but he still referred to money and tried mooching for more money the entire time. I bit my tongue and sat through the whole thing.

The remaining ashes were then removed. We concluded the yagna when I took the ashes down to a corner of a road and let them loose. Everyone would call after my grandfather and I, but it was vital to the ritual that I didn’t look back at them.

When I picked up the jar which had my grandfather’s ashes I said, “Let’s go dada, (grandfather) it’s time to go to Bhagwan’s home,” and told him how much I loved and respected him.

At the end, I said, “Farewell. Keep watch over us here on earth, you’ll always be with the family here because you’ll always reside in our hearts.”

On the return walk, I could not look back to my grandfather. I remembered he was in my heart, so it wasn’t as bad as walking to the corner. My bare feet ached after walking on the burning hot ground. They pained me for the next two and a half weeks.

An unusual part of the yagna, that I still don’t fully understand to this day, was cleaning the tail of the goat after feeding it. My cousin went to get a goat and brought it to our house by a rickshaw taxi, and I fed it sweets and washed its tail. The goat was friendly, so it wasn’t bad. We developed a close bond after I fed him … I think.

The Return

Once the traditions were completed, it was time to go home. On the last day at least 150 people came to meet me to send good wishes to all in America.

The most common phrase I received that last day was “don’t forget about me when you go back.” Family and friends urged me to call them, mention them to my parents, and talk about them to any family back home in America.

The 20-hour plane ride back included a lot of personal reflection. I remembered that little kid who got smacked and the small children paghe lagh-ing me.There is still much to explore of the country that my parents are from and the country that defines who I am, but the visit this time was for a much greater cause. I came back to America with more valuable memories and lessons than a tourist trip would have ever given me.

Kishan Patel is a Sports Editor for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.