Saturday, October 5, 2013


Tomorrow, I shall depart on an epic trek into the Himalayas with a group of students, directly followed by a blissful retreat (?) in Kolkata with a great friend.

In two weeks, I shall have many new experiences about which to blog. 

But first, I shall turn back time and finish recounting last year’s winter break adventures.  Finally.

After my stay in Jodhpur (superfluous spice shops, majestic fort, ziplining ... remember?), I hopped on yet another bus:  to Udaipur.  It was a long ride, but a beautiful one, through stretches of protected forestland.  I sat next to a man who was obviously very proud of his country and peppered the journey with interesting facts and anecdotes about the surrounding countryside.  Just as interesting, however, is the fact that I didn’t know this man spoke English until halfway through the bus trip.  He was visibly becoming more and more frustrated by the heavy-handed, horn-blowing driver, until he finally turned to me and exhaled, “This is the real India.”

I got another glimpse into the “real India” once in Udaipur.  I stayed at a guesthouse called Dream Heaven.  I wouldn’t necessarily call it “dreamy” and it was a far cry from heaven, but the kitchen could cook up a mean pasta.  The bed was also pretty magnificent.  

But the best meal—and best experience, in general—was with Vidhaya, a woman who ran a small shop right next to the guesthouse.  I stopped there my first night to pick up some hygiene essentials, and she invited me to stay for a while and watch TV on a small set suspended in the corner of the shop.  I did.  We watched some sort of singing competition between India and Pakistan.  Like American Idol, but fueled by an I-hate-your-country twist.  Brilliant.  This became a nightly ritual and, as weird and cheesy as this may sound, I felt a real connection with this woman.  Like, if in another life we were born in the same country and shared a common language, we would be great friends.

Vidhaya dressed me up.  But the question remains: did she purposely make me pose next to the "tourist" box?
My last morning in Udaipur, Vidhaya asked for the names of my favorite Indian food and Indian sweet (answer: bhindi masala and gulab jamun, respectively).  Then, she invited me over for dinner that night and said she would prepare my chosen dishes.  I offered to help cook, so at 4 pm I showed up at her apartment, which was located right above her shop.  We spent the next four hours prepping a variety of food, even though Vidhaya ultimately didn’t eat any of it because she was fasting.  Apparently, Vidhaya fasts twice a month, whereas her mother fasts once a week.  For the occasion, she made a special “fasting food,” which seemed like a complete oxymoron.  It looked like circular puffed rice, but tasted kind of like the little pasta pieces in Campbell’s Italian Wedding soup.  Not bad for non-food.

I asked Vidhaya if she had any interest in starting up a cooking course and she reacted in a strongly negative way, which made me feel even more honored to be invited into her home—I wasn’t just a practice dummy.  I was impressed that Vidhaya wasn’t jumping onto the cooking class bandwagon in Udaipur—there were signs on every restaurant, every guesthouse, advertising lessons—although, Vidhaya’s house wouldn't really lend itself to such business.  All of the food preparation and consumption was done on the kitchen floor due to limited counter space, and the menfolk ate in another area of the house. 

So it was me, Vidhaya, her daughters, and her mother-in-law on the floor.  Vidhaya’s youngest daughter whispered something to her mother in unusually shy Hindi, and Vidhaya asked if her daughter could eat with me.  Adorable.  Then Vidhaya got out a big thali plate and urged me to spoon out samples from each of the serving bowls before topping off my plate with a steaming chapatti.  Then, Vidhaya’s daughter sat down next to me and began to eat off the same plate.  Having a random 7-year-old tear pieces off my roti was—here comes the weird cheesiness again— probably the most intimate moment I’d had with anyone in India at that point.

Except for maybe that time when I taught my 7th grade female students how to pee outside.  But that’s a different story.

Even though I loved feeling so welcomed by a family in Udaipur, Vidhaya’s kindness made me pretty homesick.  But the homesickness couldn't have come at a better time—MY PARENTS WERE COMING!

AF 226: Landed

                                          To be continued... within a few hours.

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