The Way of Kindness: The Man Who Boiled My Noodles
I had spent three months in India the year before, three months during which I fell hopelessly in love with the country while also becoming intimately familiar with the ailment that most often befalls its visitors.
This time I was moving to Delhi indefinitely. I had reveled in this freedom while packing and planning for the move -- but now I found the lack of an end date terrifying.
As I spent the next couple of days in bed in my Paharganj hotel, I couldn't help but think that Delhi belly was merely a physical manifestation of my emotional upheaval. I felt cast adrift and alone in the world, a satellite that had strayed too far outside its orbit.
By day three, however, I was ready for something a little more substantial than mango juice, salty crackers and yogurt with coarse sugar. After some thought, I decided I was in the mood for noodles. Maggi instant noodles, to be precise, in their classic yellow package. They were easy enough to procure from a small shop around the corner -- my options for flavors being Masala, Mega Masala and Chinese Chow -- but I suddenly wondered if hot water and a bowl might be harder to find.
"Yes, madam, we have a kitchen," said the manager of my hotel. "Just pay 10 rupees for your water here, and then give the man upstairs 10 rupees to boil the water."
Although I'd stayed here twice before, I had never ventured above my first-floor room.
"Yes, madam. It is on the rooftop."
Not quite believing him, I climbed an extra three flights up. The roof was a desolate space, the midday sun reflecting harshly off its concrete floor and a few gray plastic lawn chairs idling around a card table, their seats crisscrossed with duct tape.
But to the right, there was in fact a small, square kitchen. As I approached it, I could tell it smelled exactly like an Indian kitchen should, in all the right ways. The piquant scent of chopped coriander swirled in the sticky air, as did fresh ginger, and flour from chapati dough; there were vegetables sizzling over a burner and a man-the one who would boil my noodles -- arranging garnishes of cucumbers, tomatoes and green chilis on a silver plate.
His name was Tara Singh, and he wore a dark-gray polo shirt that hung loosely over his small frame. His shoulders were thin and drawn in, like furled wings.
"I am from Rishikesh," he said when I asked. "You know Rishikesh?"
"Yes, not south."
He told me he had worked at the hotel for three years, and when I asked him where he had learned to cook, he said, "In Goa, six and 14 years ago. I learn Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Continental, all foods."
Our introductions established, I explained what I was looking for. Without further comment, he took a pot, filled it with water, and emptied the two packets of noodles. But he didn't stop there. He rinsed a tomato under the faucet and began to dice it directly into the pot. After the tomato, he added a few pinches of coriander, and from the fridge, a handful of cut carrots and green beans.
Then he tilted the pot back and gave it a great stir with an oversized ladle, and as he did so, imbuing my instant noodles with far more flavor and texture than they deserved, I felt something inside me lock back into place; if I was indeed a satellite, it was as though I had suddenly realigned with my orbit.
Among the carrots and coriander Tara Singh had added to my noodles that afternoon was the missing ingredient I'd been searching for since returning to Delhi: connection – both with India and its people. I was overwhelmed by this man's kind gesture, and by how in a single moment he had given me the courage to wait out my uncertainty.
While my noodles continued to boil, Tara Singh cooked chapatis for his own lunch, flipping them with a pair of tongs over the burner's flame. We chatted for a while about our families and lives, and when my lunch was ready he served it up in a silver bowl. We brought two duct-taped chairs into the kitchen and sat down to eat -- me with my Maggi, he with his chapatis and vegetables -- and I realized it was the first meal I had shared with someone since returning to India.
As I left the kitchen, I remembered what the hotel's manager had said and took out a 10-rupee note from my pocket. Tara Singh wouldn't accept it; instead, he simply invited me back up for dinner.
Candace Rose Rardon is a writer and sketch artist originally from the state of Virginia, although she has called the UK, New Zealand and India home. Candace's travel blog, The Great Affair, was recently featured in the New York Times. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post, Gadling, the Guardian Weekly, and TNT Magazine, among other publications. Her first book is "Beneath the Lantern's Glow: Sketches and Stories from Southeast Asia and Japan."
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