Thanksgiving day came without much fanfare, basically an afterthought with the Americans wishing each other a happy Turkey Day and salivating while describing Thanksgiving dinner to our foreign friends. In lieu of a proper Thanksgiving meal, we got an invitation to the next best thing; a home cooked meal from our friends Addi and Pooja (Pooja is Deepak’s younger sister and Addi is her awesome husband).
We walked about 20 minutes to a more secluded section of Agonda where Addi and Pooja rent out the top floor of a very nice house. The girls showed up with a case of beer, so we all cracked open some cold Kingfishers and got the feast started. Pooja showed us how to cook dal fry, aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower), an indian chutney, and parrathas. Everything is very simple to make and relies heavily on turmeric powder, red chili powder, coriander, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds for flavoring.
Sipping Kingfishers and swapping stories as the fragrant spices from the kitchen slowly started to make our mouths water, we learned the story of Pooja and Addi’s relationship. Addi comes from a Muslim family while Pooja comes from a traditional Hindi family. They met while working for the same company in Mumbai. One day, Addi’s computer was not working and Pooja was the technician who responded to help out. When they met, Pooja kept butchering Addi’s name (pronounced like ah-dee) and the two discovered a chemistry that blossomed into a relationship after 6 months of being good friends.
After dating for a little over a year, they decided to get married and eloped so that Pooja would not have to reveal to her parents that she was in a relationship with a Muslim man. (There are still many tensions that exist amongst the different religions and cultures within India.) They wound up living in different parts of India for over a year until Pooja asked her parents for permission to enter an ashram in Bangalore. With her parents’ blessing she set off, but went to live with Addi instead. Eventually, Addi moved to Indonesia for a work opportunity and Pooja followed a few months after. While in Indonesia, she summoned the courage to write a letter to her parents letting them know that she had been married to Addi for the past few years, a fact they have since grown to accept. (I think anyone with strong cultural prejudices would be moved towards greater acceptance if they spent time in the power of Addi and Pooja’s happiness.)
By this time I was daydreaming of my own love affair with the food in the next room, each ingredient singing its seductive, sizzling song. The dal fry and aloo gobi were both tasted very fresh and flavorful. But it was the indian chutney and parrathas that sent me into a food coma. The chutney was so fresh with the perfect spicy after kick (made from ginger, tomato, onion, garlic, coriander, green chilies, and a few other ingredients), complementing the richness of the warm, doughy parrathas. Gorging ourselves on Pooja’s parrathas, Addi challenged us to a game of carrom.
Carrom is an Indian board game that is played very similar to pool. There are four pockets, one in each corner of the square board. There are little circular pieces resembling checkers in the middle of the board, white and black, as well as one red piece. There is a striking piece that is flicked with the finger from along the striker’s zone (like placing a cue ball behind the break line after a scratch.) The object of the game is to knock the striker into your pieces to ricochet them into the pockets. Once all your pieces are in, the red piece must be hit in, like sinking the 8 ball. However, if you scratch, two of your pieces are returned to the field of play.
Carrom may look easy to the unknowing spectator, but it is extremely difficult to flick the striker with accuracy. Addi mopped us up with his vastly superior skills. His team along with Gabe and Jess destroyed our team of Birgit, Tara, Nikky, and myself. Once the cops came due to a noise complaint from the shit talking and rowdiness of the game, we decided to call it a night and walk back.
When we told Pooja of the shortcut we were taking home, she looked shocked as she told us that a panther had been spotted along that road earlier in the week. With dreams of meeting a panther on our walk home (preferably a chill panther we could ride) we set off back to the guest house to conclude our Indian version of Thanksgiving, grateful of the time we had just spent with our awesome friends.