Not long after breakfast, we were sitting with Sharan and his business partner Rajiv, our previously virtual friends. They were the reason we had come to Chandigarh. Sharan had completed a small software project for me (to help put the finishing touches on our photo gallery) the year before. After the project, Sharan and I continued to stay in touch.
When he found out we were coming to India, we received an invitation to visit.
After we spent time in their office, Sharan and Rajiv invited us to wait out a power outage at their apartment.
They and their living quarters, an open one-floor plan shared by five young guys working in the IT and telecom sectors, represented the real-life profile of the Indian IT and outsourcing boom that you read about in newspapers. All of this – the office, the apartment, the outlook – was the face of India’s young and rapidly emerging middle class.
We sat down with Sharan and Rajiv together on a bed-cum-couch and continued asking questions of one another. Like all good discussions, however, we weren’t going to get away from this one without a good dose of eating. These guys were living away from home and they and their roommates employed a live-in Nepalese cook to help with meals.
Home-Cooked Lunch in Chandigarh
Although we were still stuffed from breakfast, we couldn't resist when tin bowls of aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower curry) and mutter methi malai (peas with fenugreek leaves in cream sauce) appeared in front of us. The spread was rounded out by a bowl of fresh curd (plain yogurt) and punctuated with the regular arrival of two freshly baked and buttered chapatis (flat bread made with wheat flour).
Ah, aloo gobi, the good ol’ standby. I don’t particularly like it, actually. In my book, potatoes are filler and aloo gobi almost always features a gross imbalance of them.
This version was a revelation: chock full of cauliflower, tomatoes, and spice. Cooked just so, its masala base put all others in memory to shame. Not to be out-shined, the mutter methi malai was creamy, rich, and subtly spiced. It was so good, I quipped that I wanted to put my hands together in prayer and do a swan dive into it.
Audrey and I joked that if we had the same cook, we'd never leave the house. We also threatened to kidnap him.
Between handfuls of masala stuffed chapati, we shared stories of our travels in general, experiences in India in particular, and our transition from San Francisco to Prague to homeless travelers.
But we were curious about these guys. What about their families? Histories? Work? How did they like working with American clients? Changing Indian culture? Relationships? Life in Chandigarh?
Over lunch, we covered these topics and more and received our glimpse into how quickly segments of Indian life and society are changing under the new rules of globalization.
After lunch, we hopped on the backs of Sharan’s and Rajiv’s motorcycles and rode into town. We were thankful that Chandigarh sequestered its cows on its outskirts – fewer obstacles to dodge.
After spending two days and several meals together, we were sad to say goodbye; we sincerely look forward to returning some day.
While our face-to-face visit began in their office, it was the meal that really sealed our friendship. As it unfolded, we lived out a proverb: we shared food, we shared stories, we shared ourselves.