I am grateful that I was able to return to India before further changes occurred.


I told my husband that he had to practice squatting for future bathroom breaks and warned him of the intrusive stares that would make him stare down before a boxing match.

As I prepared for his first trip to India, I found I was a little off the mark—and I hadn’t been in over a decade.

Some of my guidance has become obsolete due to country changes.

Since I was a child, I used to visit my home state of Bihar every few years. When I visited there last month, I learned that my relatives replaced the Japanese-style toilet with a Western-style one. Clearly, the presence of foreigners is no longer the mass-grabbing novelty of the past.

Mick had to learn how to take a bucket bath and I should have given him a paper bag before he got in the car. It took me, my mother, and her sister Almas a few seconds to readjust to the chaotic Indian traffic. But my startled husband takes a deep breath to calm his nerves every time he pulls into oncoming traffic as the driver (usually a cousin) slides around a family of five with livestock, pedestrians and motorcycles. I kept asking myself to do it.

I repeatedly assured Mick that he was easy.

The one-and-a-half to two-hour journey between my mother and father’s birthplace took nearly six hours on a then-rough route.

Infrastructure improvements also led to stable power for Mick’s first South Asian experience. This is in stark contrast to the blackouts my brother and I struggled with in the old days.

Communication with my American friends at the time was limited to handwritten letters, which took several weeks to arrive. During our recent excursions, we often had access to Wi-Fi. That meant Mick could check college basketball scores or exchange texts with his buddies about big messes of things to do.

I’m not going to lie I wish the fight was a little more realistic for a white boy. I also wished I could omit details about Northwest sports for at least a few days. Wishful thinking.

Jokes aside, I am grateful that I got to go to India before more changes were made, further loosening ties that may have been hardened by blood but have been tested by time and distance.

The intervals between trips to India have become longer and the length of stay has become more compact. The devastation caused by the pandemic and lockdown only heightened the feeling of not seeing enough of our loved ones abroad, and we wondered if flights to India would be possible again.

Of my father’s six siblings, only one remains. My mother and my only US-based aunt, both now widowed, are left with her two brothers in India.

Always interested in the country and its history, Mick couldn’t wait to see the sights of Bihar and neighboring Uttar Pradesh. But once our visas were confirmed, we were motivated to meet as many people as possible and pay tribute to those who had died.

The author's sister, Almas Hussain, by the Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.

The author’s sister, Almas Hussain, by the Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.

I was able to visit the graves of relatives on my mother’s side.

However, the door to the cemetery where my paternal grandparents Daddy and Dada were buried was locked the day we stopped in my father’s village, Banauri.

I also couldn’t show Mick my mother’s ancestral home in Aurangabad city. Because it was recently demolished to make state of the art living quarters for two of my cousins’ girlfriends.

My father’s house in Banauri still stands, but it’s a degraded shell of the space where my mother gave birth to my sister and where we spent our childhood.

Mick Dunke and Rumana Hussein stand on the outdoor roof of Hussein's father's old house in Banauli, a village in Bihar, India.

Mick Dunke and Rumana Hussein stand on the outdoor roof of Hussein’s father’s old house in Banauli, a village in Bihar, India.

The road leading to the original entrance was wet and muddy, so I went inside from the back and climbed the stairs to the outdoor roof, where I took my first photo in India when I was 3 years old.

The sun was setting as we stood there for a while. Looking at the broken concrete and the square opening with the elderly below, I come back and wonder if there is a structure that holds so many memories, or the old road that led us here. I thought I’d give way. first place.

Rummana Hussain is a columnist and member of the Sun-Times editorial board.

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