Welcome to the Alis
A good friend of ours who now lives in Denmark comes from a family in Rajastan’s capital Jaipur. All the male members of the family are in the stone business: cutting, polishing and trading stones from all over the world. We have arranged a meeting with one of the cousins of the Ali family to see their place.
Standing in front of our hotel waiting for an unknown cousin in a car we didn’t really know what to expect. But the camera was packed and we were ready for surprises. Half an hour later we found ourselves with not one but two unknown cousins in a car bumping our way through the streets of the Muslim quarter of Jaipur. After a chai and a chat at the office I was kidnapped to a very special treatment by the Ali ladies!
Four generations live together under one roof. Four bedrooms, one toilet and two rooftops as a classic Indian crown of the house: one for working, playing and eating and another one for flying with kites. The Ali family is big and proud, and it is no wonder that it takes two women’s work to prepare the evening’s dinner: they have to fill the stomachs of 50 people each night.
Before the roof terrace serves as the dining room, it sets the scene for all sorts of activities: onions, chili, garlic, curlyflower and potatoes are chopped, chapatidow is mixed, trousers are repaired, clothes is getting washed, and the air is filled with the voices of a handfull of children playing around.
What I had the chance to experience in this home was the decoration of my hands and feet with henna: Sana and Najma were each holding one of my hands for four hours, which was the time needed for doing this amazing work. As the afternoon passed by both aunts, uncles, cousins, children in all ages and their great grandmother came by to take part in the event with curiosity.
While Najma is a full time mother of four children, Sana studies law and therefore she talks a great deal of English. While the two cousins were painting my hands and feet there were several other girls around me watching curiously. Sitting closely like that, talking, decorating, singing, laughing and letting things happen was a unique way of meeting each other. When we didn’t know how to ask or answer a question facial expressions did the talking.
What was so special about this afternoon was the certain interest and understanding that comes from sharing something: we were sharing the basic condition of being women. ”Behen” they called me, ”sister”, and that was how I felt: a welcome and respected member of the ladies club! Sana, Najma, Najiya, Insha, Salma, Sufia, Sajiya – both my name Sasja and my presence felt at home in their company.