The last thing I expected to be doing in Allahabad was singing for my supper.
Staying with Ivan and his wife, Purnima, at their fabulous homestay, offered us a window into a rarely seen side of Indian culture. As well as cooking for us and taking us for pista kulfi (a pistachio-flavoured sweet similar to ice cream), they regaled us with stories of their lives.
Every community has a centre, a heart. This historic home, pushing 90 years old, is undoubtably that. Their door is always open: for their children and their friends (the latter still pop by even though the children flew the nest a long time ago); their precocious grandchildren who now holiday here; their neighbours (who are, coincidently, relatives); and of course their guests, here on holiday, travelling the world or, of course, on personal quests. I feel like I know them all.
My favourites are the American family who came to stay to build a boat! The father wanted to be here during the annual Magh Mela, to row pilgrims out (free of charge!) to the Sangam -- a holy spot where two of India's holiest rivers, the Ganges and the Yamuna, meet one of Hinduism's mythical rivers, the Saraswarti. By the end the whole town knew of the 'boat house', and dozens turned out to join the procession to take the finished boat down to the water.
...Bet, by now, you're dying to know how I ended up singing my heart out in the middle of a lounge full of rum-fuelled, South Indian grandmas!?
We just so happened to be staying with Ivan and Purnima on the night of their son-in-law's 40th birthday party. And Ivan had gone and bought a home Karaoke machine!