Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Indian Breakfast

Two tables, next to each other.

At one, I sat with S.

At the other, another young (desi) man sat with his girlfriend.

Both tables played out, a beat apart, the same scene.

The table number is called. The young man goes to the counter and returns with idli and sambar and chutney. The pair begins eating. All is well.

The table number is called again. The young man goes to the counter and returns with a dosa. The young woman demurs, and says something teasingly about how it will be perfect for sharing.

The table number is called again. The young man goes to the counter and returns with a second dosa, as there are, after all, two people at the table. The young woman is starting to look a little nervous. He pushes one of the dosas -- which is, of course, the size of... oh, I don't know, a small cat -- towards her.

"Eat up," he says. "This is what everyone eats for breakfast in India."

The young woman at the second table rebels a bit more than I do (I am rapidly becoming seduced by the spices), as both men say "but you are too thin already, you need to eat this." Then the table number is called yet again, and the young man returns with cups of thick coffee and chai. The only question is where I can find room to put them.

"What can one possibly do after eating Indian breakfast?" I ask, staring at the empty plates.

"Sleep, of course," he replies.

But instead he takes me out into the street, around a corner to a shop which sells paan. Dosas are overwhelming because of their square-footage; the paan was overwhelming for a different reason.

"All of it in the mouth at once?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

The wrapped mixture was slightly larger than my palm, but I was nothing if not game. And yet -- after conquering the idli and the sambar and the chutney and the dosa and the coffee and the chai -- the paan, stuffed into the only part of me that was still empty, was my undoing.

My head began to spin as I tried to chew, and I ended up spitting the mixture out into the street, which I think disappointed S., because I had held up so well thus far.

Yet he was kind enough to take me back to the apartment a half-hour later, when the rest of the Indian breakfast caught up with me and caused me to lean, somewhat dizzily, into the wall of a grocery featuring an advertisement for Amitabh Bachchan in Cheeni Kum. ("Now with less sugar," indeed!)

And, as he had predicted, Indian breakfast led me straight to Indian sleep.

I wonder if the young woman at the other table slept as well.

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