I looked at the food on my plate, the slightly creamy, and very wet vegetable curry paired with the steamed slightly lumpy but very fine-grained mass of … well I don’t quite know how to describe it, but it was made with rice flour. That was the starch, and there’s an almost essential curry/starch combination that I’m seeing over and over again.
I considered once more again the food in front of me, and I looked at my spoon, weighing my options, and I realized I didn’t have the right tool for the job. Or I wasn’t using the right tool for the job.
In my reading before this trip I learned that many Indians still eat using their hands, so I wasn’t completely surprised when I first saw it. And over my time here I’ve been able to observe many people eating meals in this traditional manner, immediately realizing that there is a definite process; there is an art to eating with one’s hands. First of all, the use of the word “hands” is a misnomer, because when doing so, we actually eat with our fingers, massaging the sauce of the curry together with the starch (be it rice or bread, or something else) to form a small delicate ball, which is then carried carefully to the mouth. This really can’t be accomplished with a utensil. The food wouldn’t be the same.
Two nights ago, I ate the banana with my fingers, and I think I did better than my Indian Family expected. I attribute this to years of watching surgeons do things with their hands and learning to model their movements. Last night at dinner, I used bread, but that’s not far from my usual comfort zone. But when I looked at my brunch this morning, it was more challenging than rice by any measure, and as I stated yesterday, rice is problematic. Still, there was only one tool that would get the job done, so I set aside the spoon and ate the way I’ve been taught.
And it worked great.
This morning, Roopa and her family took me to their temple for morning services, as I somehow haven’t visited any temples here, and that’s unusual for me. She and Prema were dressed in beautiful saris, and her cousin Prakash in traditional garb as well. I wore a t-shirt and shorts, because I wasn’t planning on anything nicer when I packed for this trip.
When we arrived at the temple we removed our shoes, walked up the steps to the threshold, and found a number of people milling about. Gradually, the celebrants worked their way into the temple, the men removing their shirts in preparation for the ceremony. Eventually, our group entered as well. I and many others remained just outside the temple door for the service, observing through the open door. Sometimes being present at formal ceremonies during which I’m not a participant leaves me self conscious. Prakash expressed understanding and offered to stay with me, but I encouraged him to attend.
Afterward, we went to brunch and then returned to the family home. We sat for a bit on the porch until my taxi came and I said my goodbyes.
The taxi carried me away to the airport for my flight to Delhi, where the wheels of the jet skidded on the pavement as I once again landed in the dingy smog and took the subway to my hotel. There, I spent the evening making final preparations.
You see, I am going home tomorrow. My time in India has finally come to its close.