A Daughter’s Pilgrimage to India
What is pilgrimage? When Mara Munro journeys to Jaipur, Rajasthan, following her mother’s death, she finds out it’s about remembering the past and letting go.
My mother’s laugh was truly her own. It could carry across a crowded room, land right in your ear and make you smile. My mother’s life was truly her own, but it carried me on a pilgrimage across continents to the city of Jaipur, India.
The sprawling capital of the desert state of Rajasthan (Land of the Kings), Jaipur is famous for its signature woodblock printed textiles and vivid natural dyes. Forging friendships across oceans, my mother imported textiles and fabrics from a company called Soma. These fabrics in many ways came to define my family home.
In the backdrop of my childhood hang memories of brightly patterned cottons, pleats and prints of the desert: curtains framing a forest view, a bedspread to comfort a cold, and every meal underlined by a tablecloth. These fabrics mirrored the fabric of my mom’s very being: bright, playful, natural, soft and comforting. My mother’s life ended before she had the chance to realize her dream of going to India, so I went for her.
With a warm invitation to stay with my mother’s friends—the owners of Soma—in their home (a 150-year-old reconstructed palace of a “modest” Baron), I left for India. When I got there, I became immediately aware of an odd irony in Jaipur that I had never experienced while travelling before: I felt at home there, with the colours, fabrics, architecture and jewelery of Jaipur acting as signposts—legible navigation for a journey in a land so intensely different from Canada.
I awoke early the first morning and wandered through the many empty courtyards, open-air dining areas and sitting rooms, reading nooks and vaulted archways of the estate, my mind reeling with questions: What does it mean to go somewhere for someone? What am I expecting to find here? I began to get nervous. What if nothing “happens?” How can you predict or even plan a huge life-changing travel moment?
Somewhere in the distance I heard breakfast being called, and I started the long and winding way back to the main courtyard. At breakfast, we talked about my mom, her vibrant life and her sudden death.
“I wish she could have come and visited us here; we always talked about it,” the family said. I felt awkward; I am a fragment of her, a token of her soul that cannot in any way replace her. I felt at a loss, with my loss, in the palace. At night, the peacocks cried their feline call, and I was deeply comforted by a group of children singing sweetly, somewhere in the village below: all I could do there was be me, for her.
The following day I headed to Soma’s retail location. I soaked it all in—the familiar and the new, the clothes, the bags, the things I never even knew they made. I spotted a quilt—a dream quilt, a work of art. As I stood in awe of it, I saw more than a blanket: I saw it filled with bundled sleep, topped with jackets from a house party, the seat of a deep conversation between friends. I saw a baby lying on it staring up at her parents. I saw pieces of my life.
Then I found a blue scarf. A subtle, modern print in a pale blue I had never seen before; something so very different from anything in our home or from my past, yet a token of Soma, of Jaipur, of the home I had never been to, and the family I could never leave. This was not a souvenir but a reminder and a promise to myself and to my mother: to never forget the past, ever; yet to move on, to live the present and welcome the future.