By Kristy Anagnost, a member of the SkillCorps® India July 2018 team
How do you write about just one thing when writing about India? Specifically, Skillcorps in India. The people you encounter, the personal and professional development, functioning within a group, Sorem, the students and teachers, the weather, the kindness. And, the food.
One of the things that I was most looking forward to prior to visiting India was eating and tasting everything I could get my hands on. The naan, channa masala, paneer, daal, various potato dishes, spicy mixed vegetables, and so much chai tea. India is no exception as far as being a country that uses food to bring people together and being a part of this experience in restaurants, on the street and in homes has been an experience that has far surpassed my expectations. On our van ride from New Delhi, where we landed, to Chandigarh the following day, we stopped at a roadside restaurant with Sorem Vice Principal, Sangeeta Jain. As we sat down, Sangeeta ordered us dish upon dish as well as an overflowing basket of fresh naan and sweet lassi. It was at this point that I knew I had arrived in the right country.
My Indian culinary love affair has continued with thali at the mall, a daily buffet at our hotel before we leave for Sorem in the morning, afternoon chai tea breaks and the crown jewel of homemade lunch at Sangeeta’s home, at which time, we ate (homemade) snacks that I had never seen followed by dishes that I had only hoped that I would get the chance to experience. The lunches are so flavorful and plentiful that we often skip dinner because we just can’t eat anymore. Mind you, I am writing just one week into our experience and we haven’t even gotten to try the food in the cities of Agra and Amritsar, which we will travel to over the weekend.
As we know, each country has their own relationship with food and the way in which each country prepares and shares food can speak to the general attitude of its residents. During my first meal with Sangeeta, she noted that food is almost always shared in India; served on large plates and big bowls that are divided amongst people at the table. In addition, Indian residents are largely vegetarian, depending on the region, and I have not eaten a morsel of meat thus far into my journey. I feel that this is representative of the way that people of India live, which to me seems…communal. For example, although there are frequent sticky “situations” on the roadways, I haven’t once seen a driver give a dirty look or yell at one another. In addition to a surprisingly effective horn honking communication system that is informative rather than aggressive, I see tolerance and cooperation, which is also represented in the sharing of meals. People often choose to forego individual meals to congregate for a shared experience of one meal around the table. To cooperate in the preparation of one meal. To bring an incredible amount of love to dishes and bestow that upon one another.
I thank India and it’s food for teaching me what vegetarian meals can look like, for bringing me and my teammates together every day, for stretching our individual comfort zones and providing comfort while each of us are far from home.