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Shoes, Sanjiv, and smiles. Faridkot, I think I love you.

Lindsay Houts Published: February 13, 2013
Meet Rani and Sanjiv, Faridkot's finest.
Meet Rani and Sanjiv, Faridkot's finest.

We were two weeks into our GSE and somehow our handful of scheduled days to get some rest had evaporated into places to go and people to see. It was Day 14 and we were tired. Really, really tired. Enter: Sanjiv and Rani, my hosts in Faridkot.

Sanjiv works for the Indian government, co-owns a brick manufacturing business with his brother, and farms about 10 acres of wheat and rice. He went on a GSE to France 10 years ago, so he gets GSE, the going, going, going nature of the program, and how sometimes you just need a break. He definitely delivered.

On our first night at his house he had a few friends and neighbors over and blew our minds when he lit up a BBQ. We had chicken and fish and sat under the stars (we could see them!) and talked for several hours. It felt like a night I’d have at home with friends — change the back yard for my front porch and it would be the very same — and that’s what made it so comfortable.

We visited a local law college the next morning, but managed to get the rest of the afternoon to be unprogrammed. We had a Rotary meeting that night, but a free afternoon meant 7 hours of sweet, sweet freedom. Sanjiv knew that we’d wanted to go shopping for shoes, but rather than loading up into our trusty minivan, he brought the shoes to us.

He called a local shoe shop and asked the owner to bring a variety of shoes to his house. “Not a problem,” he kept saying. So we sat on the lawn and drank bloody marys (with fresh tomato juice, because of course) and twenty minutes later a man appeared with a canvas bag of a few dozen pairs of mens and women’s shoes. If we’re comparing, which we are, I’m pretty sure that Papa John’s can’t even get me a pepperoni pizza that fast.

I bought four pairs, and when Sanjiv was done negotiating I paid a grand total of $23. Twenty-three dollars.

I was also able to convince his wife, Rani (pronounced like “Ronny,” and his nickname for her — it means “queen”), that all I wanted for breakfast was fruit, toast, and coffee. Indians eat heavy, buttery, fried breakfasts, and for a girl like me who eats fruit or nothing at all for breakfast, that was a shock to my system.

So it took two weeks, but I finally got exactly what I wanted. Well, Rani threw me a curve ball with the fresh-squeezed orange juice, but it was a welcome one.

Pomegranate. Kiwi. Grapes. Strawberries. Melon with no English name. What you can't see are my tears of happiness.
Pomegranate. Kiwi. Grapes. Strawberries. Melon with no English name. What you can't see are my tears of happiness.

Sanjiv and his across-the-street neighbor, Sonu, planned a “small breakfast get-together” for us for our final morning in Faridkot.

By small, of course I mean that it was catered, had draping linens, heavily armed police for the government officials who were there, and flower arrangements. Small.

And finally, Remki.

Every home I’ve stayed in in India has servants. Two weeks in and I’m not used to saying “servant” — let alone having them. They’re paid a daily wage and live with the families that they work for. This is so foreign to me that my first night with a host family, confused enough already because of their joined-family structure (adult sons, their spouses, and their children all live with their parents), that I had no idea who was a daughter-in-law and who was domestic help.

I’ve not been in a home that didn’t have at least one, and but others have many, many more. Drivers, cooks, maids. I’ve cringed more than once hearing the way some people speak to them, but I noticed immediately that Sanjiv and Rani treated the Remki and the two other people in their home with a lot of respect. Their work was dignified. No honking, no snapping, no degrading.

Remki (that cute girl in the pink shirt up there), has a smile that’s bright like fire. Most Indians don’t smile in photos, so I had to pry that half-smile out of her for the camera. Just trust me when I say it’s a smile so full of life that if you’d seen it once, you’d never forget it.