Desh

Have you ever landed in a place for the very first time, for some random reason, not having moved there or anything, and thought ‘this is home’?

Kutch was certainly one of those places for me. The language, the food, the way of the people, so much like home. My ancestors come from Kathiawad, in the same state as Kutch, slightly south of it.My mother’s family still refers to Kathiawad as desh, or country-their old country. But for me this manifestation of desh was limited to banter at family gatherings, food and stories told to us children by old aunts. We we never spoken to in Gujarati-so imagine my mom’s surprise when I answered a visiting aunt in the mother tongue. Years of passive absorption had paid off and I’d even end up playing translator to a Danish colleague during the Kutch trip as proof.

My first stop in Kutch was Bhuj. It was my first time in Gujarat since my parents took me as a 3 year old, which I don’t really count. So it was my first conscious living breathing time in my ancestors’ beloved desh.

Bhuj fit like an old sweatshirt. After settling in the hotel we went for a meal at the headquarters of Shurjan, a beautiful NGO that has helped women build livelihoods through handicraft since the severe drought in Kutch in 1969. The Shroff family, who started Shrujan also started the first Fairtrade cotton farmer organization in India, which we were visiting in Kutch.

Kaka and Kaki Shroff (uncle and aunt Shroff) hosted us all for dinner that night, which was simply an extension of the meal they had every night with their entire staff. It was simple-chapatis, rice, dal, vegetables-eaten in the courtyard of the complex where Shrujan is headquartered, and where Kaka and Kaki also live. The buildings around the courtyard were traditional Kutch style ‘bhungas,’ small round walled structures stuccoed white with pieces of glass embedded in lovely patterns in the stucco. They shone like diamonds.

Kaka and Kaki Shroff, through their dedication and perseverance, have managed to bring out the true beauty of Kutch and its people in the midst of such a harsh clime (the region is periodically battered by earthquakes, and battles ever increasing desertification).

After the meal we took our leave of Kaka and Kaki and walked through the sleepy town, taking in the sights of people meeting in local restaurants, singing bhajans at the temple, strolling along the lake. Most of India feels so frenetic that Bhuj was just a welcome change of pace. A place to just be. A lovely start to the rest of my journey-to Rapar and Mandvi.

I never managed to go back to Gujarat after that trip to Kutch, but I will return someday. It is, after all, home.

If you go to Bhuj (accessible by air from major Indian cities) do stop by Shrujan. The handicraft work is top notch, and the work they’ve done on preserving local art in a sort of museum is very interesting. Here’s their website: http://shrujan.org/contact.html

If for some reason you don’t make it to Bhuj you can check out their wares at their shops in other parts of India. Oh and if you’re adventurous about trying new foods try this sweets and snacks shop-I thought it was YUM: www.khavda.com
Ask anyone in Bhuj-they’ll direct you to an outlet.

If you do make it to Bhuj, there are some options for accommodation and food (Shrujan doesn’t have a restaurant-the meal I described was a personal experience). When I went a few years ago new hotels were being built. Check out the travel advisory websites for most current options.

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