Now back at work onboard a new yacht, I have slipped back into the perpetual day dreaming that my work tasks tend to induce. My mind often wanders, it squeezes out of my ear and floats off lazily, into the recesses of my memories. Admittedly, there aren’t a whole lot of places it really goes to… places I have seen and food I have eagerly devoured tend to be the magnet to my wandering mind. So today I was on laundry duty, which is not as laid-back as it sounds. Think thirteen crew members handing in two sets of uniforms each, as well as their personal clothes, up to twelve guests and their clothing, towels and sheets from crew and guests alike, beach towels, linen napkins, teatowels, rags, silk everywhere. And everything to the highest standard humanly possible. That‘s what laundry means on a yacht. Anyway. The point is that there is not much conversation going on in there, and it gives me plenty of time to think, and more importantly, reflect.
Today, I found myself revisiting the chai-loving, head-wobbling, busy, dusty, easy-to-smile country of India. I am well aware that the month I spent there in 2016 will not come close to providing me with an unwavering understanding of the country and its people. What it did was provide me with an unwavering love for the country and its people. Like anyone that’s ever been to India, I just felt so much while I was there. I truly believe it’s impossible to go to India and not feel something. It’s an assault to the senses, a chaotic equilibrium between the beauty of its nature and the black cloud of its cities, of the tenderness of its people and the scream of their car horns, of the kick of its vindaloos and the sweetness of their lassi’s.
India still means so much to me, and the memories of my time there continue to dust over my daily life, like icing sugar on your favourite cake. To be completely honest, I had a lot of trouble eating spicy foods prior to my trip. I was extremely sensitive, to the point where the familiar frantic waving-my-hand-like-a-fan, mouth-wide-open scenario often featured at the dinner table. I was a total crybaby about it, what was I to do when I hit the first stop on the trip, Sri Lanka? Cut my tongue out? Die?
I transitioned to spice much like my transition from France to Australia, where my parents put us into school with very little English knowledge which forced us to learn to communicate with our classmates. So to learn to eat spicy foods, I went to Sri Lanka and India.
That first meal in the run down restaurant on the side of the road in Colombo felt like a claw that tore my mouth out. I honest to god wanted to scream, tears were running freely down my face like waterfalls that could do nothing to extinguish the raging fire in my mouth. The weeks that followed was a blur of “Sri Lankan curries and rice” for nothing but the change in my pocket, of late night stuffed rotis and spicy roasted chickpeas from street carts.
As much as I appreciated the food in Sri Lanka, I think my tastebuds had not yet become accustomed to it. But by the time I got to India, after a month in Sri Lanka and a month in Malaysia, I was finding myself nodding to the locals that asked me “spicy?” and by the end of the trip, I was adding “not tourist spicy, India spicy!”. What had happened to me? Had I danced with the devil a little too much and become one of them? I was hooked.
But my introduction to the world of spice was not the only thing to be acquired over my trip. My arrival in India brought with it a deluge of flavours, of smells and of textures. The vibrancy of the fruit and vegetable stalls, of the piles of chilies guarded by elderly women on the sidewalk, of the machete armed teens ready to swing at a large coconut, the juices exploding all over our clothes and our smiles impossible to erase. I found that in India, I could really relate to the influence of food on daily life. It’s not just a meal or way to survive. It’s not a burger hastily shovelled down on the run, a green juice to feel healthy, a guilt ridden bar of chocolate after a long day at work. I watched contentedly as local men paired discussion with chai, as women laughed as they slapped chapati dough in their taunt and untiring hands, as shop vendors brought plastic bags of curry to their neighbours for nothing in return. I came to realise my own relationship with food has always been much like the Indians; a way of life, a part of conversation, an extension of every task. And of course, always something to share with others.