Three Floors, One Home

Authored By:

Laura J.

I wake up from my nap. My phone is playing the classic radar tone and buzzing next to my throbbing head. Where am I again? I look around the unfamiliar room at all the browns and tans that remind me of the leaves on trees when they dry up and fall to the
ground right before winter hits. Am I still in Pennsylvania? I then look outside at the long, slim green leaves of the mango tree growing up onto my balcony. No: I am in India, I remember; and it’s time for me to eat my first lunch at this new house I’ll be calling home for the next few months.

Still in my clothes that I spent 29 hours in on three different airplanes, I trek down my two flights of stairs to the first floor where my host parents live. By this point it is 2 PM which is way past the time I’m used to eating lunch.

I tap three times on the bars of the front door and am greeted by my host dad, Professor Ramanarasimham, who is in his day clothes consisting of a white t-shirt and long wrap covering his bottom half called a lungi. “Come in, please,” he says with a smile that makes the aged skin around his eyes wrinkle up. “Have a seat right here.” He gestures to the one of many couches in the living room painted a dark burgundy with intricate carvings that looks something like a henna design.

Scanning with my eyes this floor of the house for the first time, Mrs. Leela, a middle aged woman who has trouble walking, slowly makes her way across the room, moving her body side to side with each step resembling a pendulum swaying on a clock.
“Here, take.”

In front of me, there is a round metal plate the size of a Frisbee with three food items on it, but only one that I am familiar with: rice. The others, I am told later, are dal and okra, or “lady fingers” as my host mom calls them.

That’s it, though. No spoon. No fork. No knife. Just the lone metal saucer, rice, dal, and lady fingers. I was about to break the ice and eat Indian food with my hands for the first time. I awkwardly grasp with my left hand the edge of the metal plate that is warm to the touch because of the freshly steamed rice. Not knowing where to start, I touch the rice with a few fingers, pick a handful up, and put it back on the saucer. I hesitate. It’s warm and slimy. It’s like picking pebbles up off the ground that have been baking in the sun all day, but only softer, like the sun has started to melt them. It’s the same softness as the skin on the tip of my pinky finger that I pick at when I’m nervous. I go in again and wrap the five fingers on my right hand around a bundle of rice and slide it over to the pile of dal. Scooping some of the dal up and mixing it with the rice, the sliminess turns into even more slime. The yellow-orange dal is sticking to my fingers and getting jammed beneath my fingernails. It feels messy. It looks messy. It’s the same stickiness I feel when I make cookies and scoop out the dough from the bowl with my fingers and roll it into little balls.

I bring the mixture up to my mouth and feel my fingers touch my lips. I can’t get the food in unless I put my fingers somewhat in my mouth, so this is what I resort to. Now my fingers are not only covered in dal and rice but in my own saliva, too.

It feels like hours until I finally finish, but lo and behold, the rice, dal, and lady fingers all end up in my stomach thanks to my trustee new spork, my right hand. With a little soap and water, the thin coating of food and saliva fitting like a glove around my fingers is washed away.

It’s all over, like nothing happened: a piece of cake, it seems. I broke the ice, and managed to avoid steeping on a great deal of the shards along the way. The ones I did crush with my feet only stung for a moment then quickly melted away.