As I sit in my comfortable apartment in Bangalore, living half a world away from my parents, I wonder if my dadi, my paternal grandmother, could have ever imagined this life when she was my age. She has lived most of her life in the Indian village into which she married some 60-odd years ago. As of the 2001 census, the village had a population of 18,412. It’s located near the border between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, in the heart of Bundelkhand. The region is most famous for the Khajuraho temples, which are covered with intricate erotic carvings and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When my dadi starts speaking in her rapid-fire Bundelkhandi, a dialect of Hindi, neither my mom nor I understand more than a quarter of her words.

My dadi prefers to do things the old-fashioned way. Eggs aren’t allowed in the house, and meat or poultry of any kind is certainly verboten. She is also very particular about jhutha food. This concept is tricky to define in English, but it has to do with – basically – cooties. Typically, if someone else has eaten off a plate, or eaten a bite of their food, that plate or food is considered jhutha. My dadi takes this to the next level. If a serving dish full of food has been set on the dining table, it’s considered jhutha, even if everyone has been using a clean spoon to serve themselves individually. That serving dish, and that food, isn’t allowed to enter the kitchen (and therefore can’t be put in the fridge) until the dish has been emptied and washed. Contending with this fact is especially fun when you have leftovers in the hot Indian summer.

But the traditions that startle me the most are about her notions of family. My favorite cousin M isn’t allowed to eat the prashad, or small treats offered to the gods, from my grandmother’s prayer ritual. Because M is my grandmother’s daughter’s daughter, and not her son’s daughter, M “belongs” to her father’s family and not ours – she doesn’t have the same last name as the rest of us. For her to eat the food offered to “our” family’s gods would therefore be inappropriate. (We sneak her the treats anyway.)

My modern urban life is an odd contrast with my grandmother’s traditional village life, but I have been fortunate enough to experience both. The truly odd contrast is that of me with the urbanites around me, many of whom have no idea what it means to live in, or come from, rural India. This country is fractured along so many lines – male/female, progressive/conservative, rich/poor – that the rural/urban divide appears to be just another facet of life in India. But wherever you live, you encounter women and men, social workers and the religious right, doctors and rickshaw drivers. Many elite urban Indians, though, have no context for what rural life really is.

I won’t pretend – my father’s family was privileged. My grandfather was the lawyer to the village’s maharaja, or king. (He also represented local bandits, known in India as dacoits, which offered the family protection. My very urban mother tells the story of her very rural wedding – loitering around town were burly dacoits with guns and huge mustaches, much to her parents’ consternation.) My family has status in the village still. They weren’t rich, by any means, but they weren’t starving either. My father and his siblings “made it out” – they left the village, every one of them, a success story that people still talk about.

But rural life is not just about poverty, although that’s certainly a major concern. Rural life is knowing everyone who walks by your house. It’s waiting three weeks for your fridge to be fixed, because the nearest repairperson lives two hours away; it’s taking walks to the nearby temple for entertainment; it’s shooing the goat out of your hallway; it’s sending your children to live with their uncle, because the local English teacher can’t spell simple words. It’s a mindset, one which many urban Indians can’t comprehend.

I suppose it’s the same in the States. I was raised in California – what do I know about Tennessee and Georgia and Kansas? It gets me every time, though, when I hear someone who has never left Delhi lecture me on their half-baked solutions for India’s rural poor. I might have grown up in the States, I want to say, but my family does come from a village. It seems to me that juxtapositions have always defined my life – this, I guess, is just another in a long line.