This morning during breakfast, I suddenly realized that I felt hungry. “Sahji! Chandra-shake-uh! I’m hungry!! My stomach problem is gone!” I cried. I thought Sahji was going to clap with joy, and that Chandra-shak-uh’s happy grin couldn’t be bigger. I ate breakfast, and found that it was okay. However, being so close to leaving India, I think my brain has just set itself on wanting American food, and I am getting awfully tired of seeing, smelling and tasting Indian food. I want to eat “regular” food again! Poor Sahji. He is an excellent cook, and is always looking for ways to make our food tastier for us. How can he understand that what my tastebuds are longing for is to eat the kind of food I’m used to, and that food is only available in America? There’s nothing wrong with his food—it just isn’t American.
Just a word about Sahji’s food. While we at first were sure we would gain a lot of weight eating Sahji’s bountiful meals, now Byron and I are pretty sure we’ve lost weight in India, and this is why. Almost everything that Sahji and Chandara-shake-uh prepare for us is from scratch. I can think of only a handful of things they cooked for us that were already somewhat prepared. They don’t open cans or pre-made mixes or prepare dinner from a box like we do in America. For every meal, they chop up the onion, the pepper, the garlic, etc, and make a sauce from scratch, and the chaptis from scratch—every sauce, every drink (banana milk-shake, for example, or mango juice), and all the soups are made completely from scratch.
Also, we don’t have “snacky stuff” in India like we do at home. If you get the munchies in America, you get out the chips, or the crackers, or something chocolate, and munch when you’re hungry. When you’re hungry for a “little something” in India, you go looking in the kitchen and find that you either have to eat a few “biscuits” (sweet-tasting pre-packaged crackers), or heat up a plate of rice and a sauce, and it just doesn’t seem worth it. We found ourselves eating between meals and snacking before meals much less often there.
(Upon returning home, Byron and I found we’d each lost a few pounds. Now, is this because of the healthy cooking/lack of snacking, or possibly from the extra exercise we got from walking a whole lot more, or from being too sick to eat the last week we were in India, or a combination of the three?)
Speaking of Sahji, he told us his brother was coming to visit him that day, and that he would meet his brother at the airport. Sahji is not from Tamil Nadu, but from another Southern India state called “Karola.” If I understood him correctly, Sahji doesn’t even speak Tamil, but the Karola language is so close to Tamil that everyone understands him here. He also often cooks Karola foods, and is teaching Chandra-shake-uh how to cook them. Chandra-shake-uh, on the other hand, is teaching Sahji how to cook vegetarian, Tamil food.
After lunch, as promised, we Burke females get dressed up in our saris and all the jewelry, including ankle braclets, bangles, and necklaces, earrings (hung over the ears for the non-pierced ears) and forehead jewels. Boy, did the girls look Indian. Mahalakshmi and Davi arrived, and immediately set to work “fixing” our saris, braiding our hair, and pinning the plastic jasmine flowers in our hair. When they were done with us, we were as Indian-looking as we could get.
I took some pictures, and gave the camera to Sahji and Chandra-shake-uh, who had arrived in the middle of the picture-taking session, who enjoyed trying to figure out how to work a camera. Then we had some poses with Sahji and Chandra-shake-uh. We posed and pictured as long as Erin, who was wearing her lavender sari, could stand it. “This is itchy!” she kept saying between clenched teeth in a forced smile.
This is the day we do some last-minute errands of things we’ve been meaning to do all along, such as get some Indian coins as souvenirs at the bank across the street, and print some photos for our Indian friends (especially Mani, whom we’ve taken a couple of pictures of, but we haven’t given any to him yet).
Byron asked me if I could possibly acquire some bubble-wrap today, as we will need that for packing on Sunday. I asked Byron, “Do you have any suggestions for explaining what bubble wrap is to Sahji?” He didn’t. We summoned Sahji, and both of us made popping sounds and actions as we pretended to hold a sheet of something in our fingers. Sahji looked at us strangely. Then Byron showed Sahji a breakable object, pretended to wrap it up in invisible bubble-wrap, and then pack it in a suitcase. Sahji looked like he might understand, and said, “Yes. I get for you.” We are not at all sure what he will get for us.
Dawn and the girls finally made the time to go find Hina Collections, which is the lovely little shop where we made our first souvenir purchase (Erin’s stone-carved elephant-within-an-elephant), and where we found a few western clothes for Erin. We want to return there, because someone I’m shopping for wants something that I’ve only seen for sale at Hina Collections. Shortly after we discovered that shop within walking distance of our apartment, the shop moved. We haven’t been to their new shop since the move, and Mani said he thinks he can find the new location.
Off we go. This is the very first time I have seen Mani look confused. He drives up and down streets, looking but not finding. He asks me if I have the shop’s phone number, and I have to admit I forgot it at the flat. Suddenly, Erin and Lily say, “Hey, Mama! Look! That looks just like Hina Collections!” Mani stops the car, and I jump out. Yes, indeed it is. Their store isn’t marked, but it’s the same merchandise piled high on the tables, and the same clerks working there, and the clerks recognize me. I rush back to the car to get the girls.
We discover that Hina Collection doesn’t have quite everything for sale that they had before, including the embroidered Indian girl wall-hanging that they had last time (which was exactly what I was after). But Lily found some lovely elephant keychains there, (she’d been talking about what nice gifts they’d make, but we hadn’t seen them anyplace else). We gather around and select keychains for people. The clerks ask me more about the wall-hangings I’m after, and I explain to them in great detail, hoping they’ll remember that they had these at their old location. They nod as if they completely understand, and ask me to come back on Sunday when they will have those in stock. Okay.
Home to drop off Lily and Heidi with Byron, then off to Spencer Plaza with Erin to pick up our custom-made saris. Mani comes into the mall with us this time, apparently not trusting us to get in and out quickly (I admit, I find it very hard not to get side-tracked).
We find the shop and the little man, and this time something interesting is happening in the store. Another shopkeeper is walking around the store waving an incense-burner in one hand, ringing a bell with the other hand, and chanting. I’ve never seen anything like this. I ask Mani, “What is that man doing?” Mani says, “Later, ma’am.” But I want to know NOW, so I ask the little man shopkeeper, “Can you tell me what he is doing?”
The little man shopkeeper says, “He is Hindu, and this is a Hindu holy day.”
“Hindus have holy days? Which day is that?” I asked.
“Tuesdays and Fridays,” he replied. Mani nodded in agreement.
“So why is he waving the incense and ringing the bell?” I asked.
“He waves the incense to rid the shop of evil,” said the shopkeeper, adding, “Did you see the broken coconut behind the cash register?”
“Why yes, what’s that for?”
“He breaks the coconut and spills the coconut milk to show how he cleanses himself from evil.” Hmmm. I’d heard the same explanation of breaking coconuts in a Hindu temple.
That seemed the end of the explanation.
Time to try on the saris. We were ushered into a little stuffy dressing room and tried them on. Not having a female clerk available this time to help us, Erin and I fumbled around and did our best, then emerged from the dressing room, hoping that the little man shopkeeper would see if they fit properly. Even though he was very professional, it did feel strange to have a man “fix” our clothes—tugging, tucking, and generally describing how I should have put the saris on Erin and myself. Satisfied that the saris fit us alright, we paid for the sewing, and left very soon. On the drive home, I thought, “Why, I haven’t been alone with Erin since we were in India!” So we enjoyed chatting together on the drive home.
Upon our arrival home, I decided I should try and pull my sermon together for the next day. I put together a few notes, then prayed and fell exhausted into bed, wondering if I should try wearing a sari for the first time while preaching up front in church. The thought that my ineptness at dressing in a sari could result in the sari coming disassembled at an inopportune moment made me decide against it.