It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks since my last post, a shame since there have been some truly special food experiences that I have wanted to share but have been too busy to do so. In my lowly defense, there was an all-nighter pulled for work purposes, the completion of a very big deadline, and then finally, a quick plane ride to beautiful south Goa for a few days to get away from it all.
But flying back home to Bombay on Thanksgiving itself woke me up from my blogging stupor. Even if I can’t have pie and my mother’s stuffing this year, (oh pie, how you are missed!) food would still be eaten and thanks could still be given, even if that food was Thai take-out and that “thanks” was given here, written out, on this site.
Indians are a passionate, opinionated bunch, with a vein of generosity that runs so deep, that giving seems as easy to them as breathing. In a country where the income disparity is as large as it is (40% of this densely populated nation lives below the poverty line, while others are building 27-story buildings as homes) there is still a blanket understanding that you help others out whenever possible, and that you feed anyone you can whether they’re hungry or not.
One of the best people I have met so far – someone who I will genuinely miss when I leave this spring – is the driver that has been assigned to our film crew, whose name is Ayaz. In our first few days of knowing each other, he spoke little English, and I spoke little Hindi, and our conversations met not quite half-way before dissolving into each of us babbling to each other, the only thing the other person comprehending was the knowledge that the other person wasn’t understanding at all. There’s a scene in the movie Love Actually that rings true for me now, where Colin Firth and his Portugese housekeeper speak at each other, but not to each other, in their respective languages during drives home. I like to think that Ayaz and I have the (platonic) “Hinglish” version of this relationship.
Eventually though, his already not-terrible English improved rapidly (my Hindi has yet to catch up) and our conversations developed from halted “how are you”s to actual conversations about family, life choices, relationships, and food.
He invited all of us to his home in Nala Supara to celebrate Eid al-adha with his wife and children, a Muslim holiday where the main dish revolves around bakri, or goat. Sitting on the floor in his very small, very basic home, we washed our hands in a small bowl, and ate the most delicious goat curry and bread of our lives. Ayaz, dressed out of his normal slacks and shirt and into a beautiful white Muslim kurta, didn’t eat, but watched all of us, beaming; he told us in Hindi that the sight of all of us in his home, eating with his family, made his belly fill up with joy.
Spending time with as many Muslims as I do here – people who have been kind, generous, open-minded and loyal – makes me increasingly frustrated to hear the over-heated rhetoric coming from the US about the religion, the misleading and inaccurate information being spouted about Islam, the seemingly now-accepted viewpoint that the religion is something to fear. But that’s a topic for a different post, for a separate blog, for another day.
Without sounding too hyperbolic about it, Goa was something of a magical experience for me – I was in awe of its beauty, of its food, of its way of life. If you ever get a chance to travel out to South Asia, jump on one of the lovely, affordable Kingfisher flights and spend a few days in the southern beaches. November is a good choice for its perfect weather and lack of tourists. You’ll drink amazing fenni, a cashew based spirit native to Goa, and eat the best prawns and fish of your life that were caught a few hours before you consume them. You’ll eat on the beach, facing West, and talk to the Nepalese staff who travel from the Himalayas to work during these months. You’ll swim out into the Arabian sea, into a sunset so beautiful, you’ll find yourself wishing that you live a very long time so you can experience that sunset several more times in your life. Breakfast will be a masala omlette and fresh watermelon juice, and coffee with hot milk that you drink looking out at sea. And you’ll go home with your wallet full and your state of mind relaxed, because you’ll only end up spending a handful of US dollars a day to eat and drink like a king everyday.
So, what am I thankful for? Getting to experience life abroad in this very unique way. Meeting the generous souls that I have here in India – such as our driver Ayaz, such as my roommate Shivani, such as my office mate Seema, such as the skinny kid named Joy who gave me a motoricycle ride home when I was stranded at a desolate beach – who have made me realize that finding a network of truly supportive and kind people, who help you out when you can’t help yourself, can make anywhere actually feel like home.
Also on the give-thanks list: being able to reunite with Terence on January 5th, when he lands in India for a brief visit (not that I have his flight itinerary memorized or anything). And lastly, having a family and a group of friends back home in the US who are just so darn amazing, they warrant me missing them as much as I do.
Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, wherever in the world you may be.