Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Rolling Stone's Moss: Indian French Fries

It was the third day that I was in Hampi for and the rains weren’t being any kinder than in the previous two days. This was the great flood that swept over the Deccan Plateau in September 2009.

As much as I was enjoying walking around town in the rains and my newfound comfort with wet-soggy footwear, it got tiring and, more importantly, cold after a while of walking about in khakis drenched to the knee. So I headed to The Mango Tree to sit for awhile and watch the swelling river go by and try and get the soggy out. Apprehensive of sitting on the chairs, I assumed my position on the stone platform at the base of a tree that stood in the middle of the restaurant.

My contemplation on the flowing river as I waited for my Falafel and tea to arrive was dismissed by a group of Italian tourists arriving at The Mango Tree for lunch. It was a bunch of nice people, most of them over 40 years of age, who had crossed the ocean to come to this exotic country and the rustic town of Hampi of all places. I started to think what kind of a tour flyer it would have been that would have attracted them from the window of a travel agent’s to take a flight and explore India. But that stream was broken too by the noises of them settling down. And since I had nothing else to do, I got busy people-watching.

A lady sat right next to me, since I was sitting just beside a large 6-seater table, and said customary hellos. So did the gentleman in front of me. I tried to go back to my thoughts but a lady from across the table asked the one beside me something about me…she kept saying Senorina over and over. I looked up, curious. They were all looking at me. I tried to hide my sudden self-consciousness when they asked me where I was from and if I was a tourist. I told them I was from Bangalore and was a tourist there as well. Then for some strange reason the other lady asked me if I was married and I said no I wasn’t. They had apparently landed in Mumbai a few days ago and proceeded to Goa from there before coming to Hampi. Bangalore and Mysore were next. Odd trail I thought, one that includes Hampi in it. The mind flitted to the travel agent’s pamphlet. Meanwhile, the falafel had appeared and got me busy.

When their guide arrived to translate their food order, I found all of them staring at me again. The guide asked me in Kannada what I was having. Majority of the group, after having been explained what it was, ordered what I was having. And while it arrived, they all decided to entertain themselves with some French Fries, a portion for each of them.

The Fries were served and their faces lit up like the faces of those who are returning home after long and see the first glimpse of their house from a distance. I was pretty much keeping to myself when I noticed the sugar dispenser on the table move. I just HAD to look up since no one had ordered tea yet. And I saw them starting to sprinkle the sugar on their French Fries.

Now, in Hampi since any hot beverage is always served without sugar in it, they keep sugar dispensers on each table, ALONGSIDE the salt and pepper shakers. Only I this case the latter seasonings were missing. And for some reason, instead of asking for the salt, they had presumed that only the sugar was to be used in this case.

I urgently flashed a curious and amused smile at one of the gentlemen. And he laughed even as he put some more sugar onto his plate…in his limited English he said, “French Fries with sugar!” He laughed some more and I felt embarrassed instantly. I asked if they needed salt and suddenly I heard voices saying Yes in unison. I asked the waiter to get the salt and pepper while the tourists proceeded to thank me profusely, as if I had found a piece of lost luggage or passport or something for them. Soon, they all settled down munching their fries as they would at home…with salt.

It is important for us to realize that when tourists arrive in this conundrum called India, after having taken lesson in cultural sensitivity and jargon like that, before they try and make sense of India, India ends up making an impression on them. They don’t need help with the fare negotiation or the guide charges at heritage sites…they get fleeced there anyway, poor souls. But if we could just be nice and extra careful when they are around, for instance not missing fundamental things on the table like salt and pepper shakers or finding out a store where can find that camera accessory they are looking for or suggesting good places to eat some of their home food once in a while between being bombarded with our spices, I think they would go back with a better experience and a clearer picture of this chaos.

Imagine having a bunch of people in Italy think Indians eat French Fries with sugar on them!

6 Thinkers Pondered:

mentalie said...

HAHAHhaha i can visualize that perfectly! my last flatmate was french-italian and when her folks visited us they had the same slightly quizzical look on so many occasions. you're right, we really should be a little more sensitive...but i think we are too used to being resourceful to be thoughtful sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Genial fill someone in on and this enter helped me alot in my college assignement. Say thank you you on your information.

Meghana Naidu said...

the last sentence cracked me up.

now we cant have sugary-french fries replacing the snake dance/cow on the street image can we

Meghana Naidu said...

oh and ive been reading your blog for a while now,


Vikram Gupta said...

Nice one...

Anupama said...

Hey Mentalie!

Nice observation there - we are too used to being resourceful to be thoughtful sometimes :)

Hey Anonymous,

Thank you for your comment and I'm glad it helped.

Hey Meghana,

Welcome to the blog :) I had seen your comments on Dear Peter sometime ago and it feels nice to see your comment here, thanks for that :)

And yes, we have to uphold the snakecharmer's and the cow's right to being stereotypes of the Indian image...would we have had books like 'Holy Cow' otherwise :)

Hey Vikram,

Thank you so much :)