Queen Sherma of the Romany Gypsy Nation had just invited me to Rishikesh to work with her and our people on handicrafts to sell in the U.S. My mind soared with the possibilities. She gave me her contact information and was gone, but not before I noticed many details about her, studying her quickly and with an awe I had never felt before. She was clearly a dichotomy, with traditional Hindi jewels from nose to ear and Chanel sunglasses (at 3:00 AM!).
“I must go, I am in a hurry,” she said, but my heart ached to know her better. If she looked like my family and me, there must be other similarities – a sameness of spirit and a passion for life. Later, when I looked at the pictures that were taken of us, I couldn’t even make out her face. On a roll of 36 photos, the only two that were blurred were the two of Queen Sherma and me.
I had missed my Great Aunt Zena while she was living. She passed away before I could get to the Ukraine to meet her. She held the title of the Queen of the Gypsies in her village, not only because of her large orthodox altar, where villagers came to pray, but because she had two cows. A rich Gypsy. I now felt I had a second chance to absorb my heritage from Sherma, the Queen of all Gypsies in the heart of our country of origin.
Being Gypsy leaves me with so many questions. When my grandparents left eastern Europe and landed on American soil, they did not want to bring their past. They had survived Stalin and then went to Germany in search of their sister, Zena (my namesake), and ended up spending 5 years in concentration camps. They shared with me their love of food, tea, music, and God. But to know that the Gypsy nation originated in India made me feel as though I was somehow home and destined to serve these people from the core of my being.
Suganda bowed and promised he would bring his family in the morning to take me to Delhi Haat – the fair trade marketplace – to teach me how to shop and to introduce me to the seed keepers, pashmina makers, and chai wallas in the busy streets of the capital city.
When I arrived in my room, I ordered tea. Planning not to sleep, I ordered a large pot of Assam golden tip, amazed at the vast tea menu at the hotel. I felt at home, at peace, and happy. The next day was my 26th birthday. I would learn to shop in India, then catch a train to Amritsar to spend the first day of this new year of my life in meditation at the Golden Temple, making chai (as a volunteer) for the masses of people who would come for a hot meal and quiet worship.
As the sun rose, I could finally make out the streets. Mansing Road was quiet except for an elephant whose master could not get him to walk. As the street filled with life, the cars all came to a stop around the elephant. A traffic jam in India is unlike a traffic jam anywhere else in the world.