2011. A PASSAGE TO INDIA

I have just returned. Even though it is already weeks ago that my youngest brother Olle and I went to India. We went to Aunt Rieneke and Uncle Pidhi. I had always wanted to go there, so when they invited us to their silver wedding anniversary we immediately said Yes! Just as you should say at weddings.

My trunks are still in the corridor. And my head is still full. Full with memories, smells, colours, turbans, saris and rickshaws.

Aunt Rieneke is married to Uncle Pidhi, a real maharaja. They live in a palace and she has the sweetest eyes I know. Aunt Rieneke comes from Zeeland and she is entirely at home in that Indian fairy tale palace with her blood coral, her everlasting embroidery, and her costume. Uncle Pidhi loves her, for her wilfulness and probably for her sweet eyes too. And she loves Uncle Pidhi because he likes to let her have her way and is always there for her.

Their festivities lasted three days. And Olle and I were late, of course. Not that Olle could do anything about it. In one way or another it’s always me that manages this. We flew to Bombay and took the train from there. I had worked out that we would arrive within one day. But that is not how it works in India. We stopped everywhere! First to unload baskets of peacocks. Then to buy tea with milk. And we certainly did not only stop at railway stations! The train stopped because a British tourist wanted to take photos of the temples that we passed. And the driver also stepped on the brakes to let a cheerful mother and her seven beautiful daughters climb aboard. They squeezed past us, to the delight of Olle. The oldest girl gave me a silk scarf, and also showed me how to wrap a sari. It was utterly wonderful, but it made the trip much longer than I could possibly have realised beforehand. 

As we approached Aunt Rieneke’s village, the festivities had been in full swing for a day. The first polo matches had already been played. They live just outside the village, and Rieneke and Pidhi had us collected from the train by elephants. My elephant had painted back legs and embroidered cushions on her back. We walked through a jungle of flowers and birdsong and I knew that we were almost there when I saw Uncle Pidhi’s red convertible on the path. I felt like an Indian princess on the back of my elephant, but when my three oldest brothers ran towards us whooping with glee I knew that I was just Pip. That’s what brothers are for.

Everybody was already there of course. Uncle Roellie and his beloved Ling, Wout and Niels, Uncle Giraffe, Uncle Dani and Aunt Margerita. Everybody wore corsages that Aunt Rieneke had made with Indian peonies. When I put the bags in our room, I saw that Olle and I had our own patio. For a moment I thought that I could just withdraw for a little while and enjoy that pretty cool courtyard garden with glazed tiles. But as soon as I heard the music I changed my mind. 

That evening we danced with the village musicians. The long tables in the great hall of the palace were covered with curries and Zeeuwse bolusses in honour of Aunt Rieneke from Zeeland. And whenever we awoke, the festivities were still going on. There was something to do in every corner of the palace. Uncle Roellie had improvised a circus for the children. There was a performance by his Ling with real zebras and dressed up cats. All the children could join in and Rieneke and Pidhi were the guests of honour. Olle and I cycled there through the palace gardens and I was surprised to see squirrels. Olle thought nothing of it – a squirrel is a squirrel. But I had not expected to see them in India. Olle went almost crazy from all the chattering of the birds and I told him that I always used to walk around with a little bird on my head. And that the cat later ate up that little bird. Not that it was nice to tell that story, but it was true and Olle loves the truth.

On the last day of the festivities, when we had just been to the polo finals, a hot air balloon came to collect Rieneke and Pidhi. It was so romantic. They stood arm in arm at the edge of the basket and I don’t think that I have ever seen such a happy couple. As we stood together waving them away, I realised that our family is at home anywhere in the world.

Olle and I stayed a couple of weeks after the party. A trip never to forget. And because I want to share all those unforgettable impressions, these can be found in my new collection. In this diary to start with. Look!

Love and kisses from PiP