Kapoors Year 1: India/S.E. Asia travel blog

Ashutosh, Alka And Abhishek Mehra

Ashutosh And Abhishek Mehra And Friend

Incredible Painting Done By Alka



This is the second time I am writing this journal entry. I got so involved yesterday, that I forgot to save as I went along and when I did try to save it, I found it had timed out and all was lost. Rats!

It took some time for us to arrange a visit to the home of Anil's cousin, Alka Mehra. She has the same surname as Kamal and Manju, but that is not unusual. The way the caste system is structured, there are names that are associated with each caste. When marriages are arranged between families, it is not unusual for the same surnames to come up again and again even though the families are not closely related. Some of the names that are associated with Anil's family's caste are Kapoor, Malhotra, Mehra, Aurora, and Khanna to name a few. Alka is the daughter of Anil's mother's brother (Anil's mother was Alka's Bua). Both Anil's parents and Alka's parents have passed away and we find that we are drawing closer than ever now that we are some of the older generation. In fact, it was a little disconcerting to have Alka's sons touch our feet as a sign of respect when we met. It doesn't seem that very long ago that we were the ones bending down to honour our elders.

We arrived at Alka's apartment to find a lovely lunch prepared for us, and two very grown up sons as well. We were disappointed to learn that Alka's husband Anup was away at a mine site and would not be able to join us. We had not seen Anup, Ashutosh or Abhishek since 1999 when we visited with Adia and Raj. They were young boys at the time and I could see that they didn't remember us until they saw our faces again. There was a wonderful smile of recognition when we walked in the door. It's wonderful for families to be reunited once again. Ashutosh is now in his second year of engineering at the prestigious Birla Institute of Technology and Abhishek is studying for his upcoming Common Admissions Exams. He is also interested in studying engineering to join his father and his brother in the same profession. There is a lot of pressure on him to succeed as there are over five hundred thousand (five lakhs) students that write these examinations each year and only the top three thousand will find placements in the best engineering colleges in India.

Now is as good a time as any to tell you about the different system of numbers used in India. When people are talking about large sums of money, they often refer to lakhs or crores of rupees. A Lakh is one hundred thousand and a crore is one hundred lakhs. To make matters even more confusing for me, the commas are placed in a different manner as well. See if you can make sense of this:

One lakh = 1,00,000

One crore = 1,00,00,000

No, I didn't leave out any zeroes. After the first three zeroes on the right, the comma is placed after every two zeros. I find I am always squinting at the numbers whenever I see them written in the paper in an ad for a high-end apartment or a very fancy car. I am also amazed at how many lakhs a wedding can cost or the fact that many parents are expected to give a "present" to a private pre-school just to get their children admitted. These presents usually amount to at least a lakh of rupees. How on earth do people manage to amass such large sums of money when most of their income is consumed in just getting through the regular expenses required to support a family?

But now back to our visit with Alka Mehra. Just as we were sitting down to lunch, we were surprised to see Anup make a flying visit. He felt that it would again be a long time before we would meet so he managed to get away from his responsibilities at the mine for short time. I regret that I didn't think of taking a family picture while he was still there, we were in the middle of eating the great lunch with the boys. I did remember to snap a couple of photographs just before we left. The young man standing between Ashutosh and Abhishek is a boyhood friend of Ashu's who is also studying engineering at a Birla Institute of Technology. He is doing his studies in Dubai and is just home for the holidays. All three young men have bright futures ahead of them, though I don't envy the pressures they are under.

Just as we were leaving, Alka showed us some of the beautiful paintings that she has been creating over the past few years. They are highly detailed with layers of ceramic and gold leaf in addition to the paints. I will have to ask her the name of this type of work again, I am afraid I don't remember what it is called. The paintings end up being quite valuable once they are done, but I don't think she plans to part with them. How she finds the time to do such amazing work in her spare time. She holds a very high position with the central government of India. Anil thinks it would be the equivalent of being the assistant to the Deputy Minister of Finance at a provincal level in Canada. Her expertise is in accounting but she has been seconded by the Department of Railways and is posted five hours outside of Nagpur and only comes home on the weekends. I am in awe of her skills and her ability to manage such a high level of responsibility and raise a family as well.


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