A Conversation with My Homestay Mother: Chanda Ji

As the reality that I will eventually leave Udaipur is becoming more and more real with each passing day, I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationships I’ve formed with various people throughout my time here--particularly, the relationship with my homestay mother, Chanda Ji. 

We live together in an apartment, just the two of us. I moved in with Chanda Ji in December, a couple of months later than other homestays. Initially, I was worried about the potential awkwardness of living with just one other person. Neerav (our instructor) had told me that Chanda Ji got her master's degree in English and was fluent. I had recently gotten more comfortable with silence due to language barriers, but what about silence caused by a lack of things to talk about? Isn’t that more authentically awkward? I remember biking to the apartment for the first time, buzzing with nerves, hoping I’d never arrive and just keep biking forever. Despite already living with two homestay families, my nervousness when meeting a new family for the first time never got better.

However, I quickly realized that my fears were unfounded. We were immediately kindred spirits and never ran out of things to talk about. On the very first day that I moved in, we figured out that we were both interested in the Law of Attraction and puzzling out questions about the universe and our role as a part of it. Frequently, after dinners, we will have conversations about almost anything for one or two hours. We’ve discussed things like organized religion, patriarchy in India and the US, yogis, and personal details of our own lives, amongst dozens of other things. 

At first, I was a bit shy to express some of my views because I didn’t want to cause any tension if we disagreed. I was hesitant to criticize anything I observed about India or Indian culture out of fear that I would offend her. However, Chanda Ji encouraged me to express my true opinions on subjects, so that we could get to the root of the topic rather than just echoing what the other person said. She also wasn’t quick to flatter the US either, which is something I’ve observed about some people here. Chanda Ji would listen to my critiques of the US too, and offer her perspective. I got more comfortable having authentic dialogues with her. Those two hours after dinners quickly became the highlights of my days. 

I am continuously struck by how open-minded and curious Chanda Ji is. She is humble in her own opinions and is always open to learning more or hearing different opinions and perspectives. I’ve learned so much from her, both in terms of knowledge about India and about life and the kind of person I want to be. 

When reflecting on what I wish to bring with me back home, it is these moments that I think about most. Obviously, Chanda Ji will not follow me to the US, and our conversations will probably become less frequent, but I can carry the spirit of our talks and the qualities of Chanda Ji that I admire and hope to embody in my life.

So, I decided to ask Chanda Ji a series of somewhat random and unrelated questions in an attempt to capture a bit of her essence. Of course, this interview cannot fully capture all of the wisdom, curiosity, and unconditional love that exude from Chanda Ji, but I hope that a glimpse of it has been captured.


Below is a direct transcription of my interview of Chanda Ji.


Maya and her homestay mother standing together smiling with an artistic background

What is your favorite childhood memory?

Oh, it’s a good question. Okay–in second class, I just stood first in my class. So I was so overwhelmed because all of my siblings got less marks, and I just waved my mark sheet and ran home. So yeah, it’s good memory. I was very young. 

What are your hopes for your daughters?

They are settled down, and I think they will do well in the future. No hope. I mean, I have no expectations. Because now, they are leading their own lives, so it’s completely on their own. I just think that they should be happy. 

What are your hopes for your own future/life?

Well, I am satisfied. I just want to have my own home sometime, and after that, if I can get spiritual growth too. 

Why do you host foreign students?

There are a lot of reasons. First of all, actually, I love it because I just want to know the other cultures. Very first when I hosted, I just wanted to know the culture. Know how they live, how do they think, and what’s their lives, and how broad-minded are they. It also helped me with bringing up my daughters, too, because I have been hosting for a very long time. And, of course, they are just like family. So, we shared very good moments. And for now, I think it’s good to have someone because my daughters are now out. So it’s very good company. 

You have been to numerous states within India and countries beyond India. Why do you enjoy traveling? Where do you hope to travel in the future?

Actually, traveling is exposing some different cultures, lenses, and it’s a change in life too because sometimes we get bored. We just want to explore new things. It make us also some rejuvenated and some different feelings. It just reminds us that we have go back home. In future, New Zealand and America, of course. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I don’t know, actually. I can’t advise because you are growing by time, and we do lot of mistakes, but that was the age effect. And even if I can advise someone else too, they will not accept it. They also want to experience some things. So, it’s ok. Trial and learn. Try, learn, try, learn. It’s ok. Because sometimes I feel like I should have been more mature in my younger years, but I think it should not be happened because it takes time sometimes. Some things, it’s ok to be mature with your age, but I think the maturity—and many more things, adjustment and all—comes with time and age too. So age definitely matters. 

How has spirituality and/or religion influenced your life?

As far as I’ve read or I understand, I don’t know if I’m right, but the thing is the whole world is an illusion, I think. We have to grow and grow ourselves. We have to know ourselves. If there’s some soul, I don’t know if there is or not, but when we do some meditation or something, we feel something different. Different energy. Different happiness too sometimes and different experiences too sometimes in deep meditation. So, I think there is something in the universe or whatever you say. So, spiritualism means for me, it’s like knowing myself. As far as religions are concerned, I think these are not so much helpful because they are only some groups who are owned by some leaders and maybe sometimes good also, but most of the time, they are also like businesses. They just earn money and settle down. From all the religions, not only Jainism. Everywhere. It’s not about them. It’s very tough job to find real teacher, as I told you. Real guru (spiritual teacher). Maybe we will be blessed to find them. 

What is one thing about India that you are proud of and one thing you think India should improve on?

It’s very good ancient heritage, culture, rituals, Vedas. We have such a deep intense knowledge which comes from somewhere else, somewhere else like mindset. So Vedas are amazing. They are amazing in every field of life. In chemistry, I mean whatever field you select, like medicine like astronomy. Astrology. Yoga. The biggest gift, I think, is yoga because yoga has eight parts and if you follow the eight parts, I think it can change your life. So, I am proud of that. One thing I think India should work on, its population. We must control our population so we can get better resources, good uses. So, awareness is required I think. 

What was your favorite part about being an announcer on the radio? Least favorite?

I still love that. The favorite part is, first, its awesome music. It’s all kinds of music. Classical, local, and folk music. Bollywood, everything. I got really good friends. It was just like a party sort of thing for me in a monotonous life. We have to write down also, so there’s a creative part also. So, we have to regularly work on that. Because, if you have to speak for five hours, you can’t just speak, and it’s not just reading, you have to work on that. So, it’s good to be creative sometimes. We have to create something, like words and different things. So, it’s very good. It keeps us young, too. I think nothing bad in that.

What is the most adventurous thing you’ve done in your life?

First, actually, the cliff jumping and paragliding. And the first time when I drove my car. On my own, no one else, I still remember! So yeah, these are the moments. 

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Reading and listening to music and meditation. 

Why do you enjoy reading?

Because it’s like we have some different notions from different authors, and sometimes, we just come to know different things all around the world like what is going on. There is a lot of information that we don’t know, and it’s provided by reading.

As a mother of two girls, what are your thoughts on women’s rights or empowerment in modern society?

So, basically, I don’t understand the term of empowerment. I just suggest equality. It is the basic thing actually. I think we have taught our daughters so much, so there has been no time spent teaching sons to respect women. We just want respect and equality. We are also equal. We are complementary to men. We are not superior, we are not inferior, we are just complementary to each other. So, society should understand that. So there will be no need for girls to think, “Am I safe?” All girls should be independent, of course. They should be well-read, well-traveled, and do whatever they want. And sometimes they must, because we live in this society, they must know about their safety also. You have to learn something, fighting karate or self-defense things, I think.

Maya Kenny