We knew that sooner or later we might bump into some kind of festival in India. After all, with 33 million gods to play with, there is bound to be something that falls within our three months in the country.
We had no idea that 21 September was going to be one of them.
We set off for what can only be described as a very random walk. Having visited the International Coir Museum slightly out of town, we decided to walk in the vague direction of the backwaters.
‘You’re never far away from a tuk-tuk,’ I observed, thinking that once we were hot and sweaty and ready to go back to Alleppey, we would be able to hitch a ride quite quickly.
I was starting to realise that actually we hadn’t seen a tuk-tuk for about 20 minutes. We were still quite fresh, but with little clue as to where we were.
It is very handy that many shopfronts in India have the full address in English on their sign boards, but we had left behind the last town that had done that, and now we were in territory where the few sign boards we saw were in the local language only.
We decided not to resort to maps.me and just continued walking. It didn’t really matter where we were.
Everyone is so friendly, it doesn’t matter whether they are young or old, male or female, whether they come running to you, call for a photo, or whether you have to smile first. They are, without fail, smiling back, waving or saying hello. It’s all rather delightfully cheesy.
Then, about an hour into our walk, we stumbled upon some kind of ceremony, at first we assumed it was religious as there was chanting over a microphone and people were joining in.
We passed by, keen not to disturb nor even to take photos, but as we glanced behind us we realised that a number of the women were gesturing to us to come and sit down and to eat.
There was no food on offer yet so David sat on a chair at the back with the men. I noticed that the women seemed to be in a separate area, crosslegged on mats on the floor, so I sided with them, kneeling in the dust at first, before a lady found me a plastic chair.
We observed the ceremony politely and after about half an hour of the chanting, we stood to leave discreetly. But we were spotted. Four young men who had not been part of the ceremony said that they wanted us to stay and eat. I mean, they insisted, they said the food would be served in ten minutes.
Actually, maybe the ceremony was caught short, I am not sure, because suddenly everyone was standing up and getting us to come and join the table. We were served first, given a healthy serving of watery rice, a mildly spicy potato and vegetable combination and a small amount of sauce to go with it.
Surprisingly, it was very good. Everyone else ate with their fingers, but they rustled up two spoons for us.
The man next to me didn’t speak any English, but other people came over to us and explained that they were remembering the social reformer Sree Narayana Guru Janthi (1854 – 20 September 1928). A little research later tells us that he emphasised the motto of ‘one caste, one religion and one god’.
Community feasts and prayers are two of the things that happen on 21 September around India, and we had stumbled upon them right here in… Oh, where were we?
We asked the helpful lady who had insisted we stop by in the first place. North Aryad, we were told.
The servers came around with plenty more food, which we declined. It was lovely but we had had enough and we certainly didn’t want to eat at the expense of anyone else. By now, of course, we had also had the chance to see where the food had been prepared – outdoors in huge vats in accordance with the usual Indian food hygiene standards.
Dessert came in the form of fruit and a sort of muesli that looked like little larvae on a banana leaf.
Even the people who began by just staring at us would smile broadly if we smiled at them. Or at least shake their heads which we take to be friendly. (It seems to have many purposes.)
All in all, it was a strange day for eating. Earlier, we were at a restaurant where it was only their second day open. Funnily enough, we recognised the owners from a cafe in town where they have their original premises.
We ordered a ginger tea, a black coffee, one scoop of mango ice cream, and David pointed to what looked like an ice cream sundae. ‘Fruit salad,’ said the man.
What arrived was a ginger tea, a black tea, three scoops of mango ice cream, and nothing else. And the man took the 100 rupees payment without returning the 15 rupees change!
We get used to this on an almost daily basis. The day before, we had been to a ‘super fast’ Chinese restaurant. It didn’t matter to us what speed they served but they spectacularly failed to deliver their mission. They took the order, which was pretty ordinary. Egg fried rice for David. He has been getting used to the fact that eight times out of ten his first choice is not available. All was well, until ten minutes later, the waiter said egg fried rice was not ok.
Strange. No rice? Unlikely. Maybe it was the egg that was off.
By pointing and much head-shaking, we established that ‘fried rice’ was possible.
‘Fried noodles?’ the waiter ventured, as if it was a choice between the two.
‘Yes, that’s fine,’ David responded, as if to say ‘whatever’s easiest, I don’t mind.’
Inevitably, we got both.
You gotta love India.