It’s been several days since I arrived in Chennai, jet lagged to the max. To my great surprise, Krishna in his overwhelming generosity has put me up in what to me looks like a five star hotel. I must have slept 15 hours off and on the first day, but why not? I’ve never experienced such luxury digs in India. Ninth floor “executive” with air conditioning, maharaja sized bed, tv, not a mosquito in sight far and wee, sweets and fruit delivered to the door with a newspaper daily, foot massage machine (!), and several phones (in the bathroom, as well, so I don’t miss your call…), and hot shower with all the foo foo soaps and skin care products. Fully equipped gym upstairs, but the gentleman who sits here and monitors everything while I’m on the computer assures me that only the ladies use it–we gents are a little lazy. Then we share a little chuckle together… This ragged old hippie India budget traveler has never experienced anything quite like it. Oh, and did I mention the complimentary breakfast?
I was torn from my deep sleep, 10 minutes after laying my head down on the stack of plushy pillows, by my dear friend Saravanapriyan (SP for short) from the bay area, chastising me for not telephoning him sooner with all my co-ordinates and contact info. I whined and sniveled mightily in my groggy state, something about jet lag and related lack of appetite… His response: “You have bad eating habits, and besides, you don’t eat enough.” I absolutely adore SP–he is far better than having an Indian auntie and grandma, all wrapped up in one. I promised by the blood of my ancestors to try to be better.
Now my dear wife, Peggy, who has been my constant India travel companion for 30 years, will certainly confirm that I have the old India habit of seeking out something for breakfast that will give me a culinary grip on anything familiar in my stomach before setting out on our daily adventures. French toast has always been that comforting teddy bear of the Indian breakfast menu, always immediately recognizable. Especially with high fructose imitation maple corn syrup, precious if you had the great luck to find it. Up until I got the nutritional warning call from SP, that is… So I set out for breakfast the next morning, steeled in my resolve to heed his admonishments, bypassed the omelette bar, the muffins, the yoghurt, and headed straight for the idly. Idly is a blend of rice and lentils, finely ground and then poached in a specialized tin which then produces a small compressed cake onto which a soup-like vegetable brew, called sambar, is ladled. Since I was feeling so bold, and jet lag was waning, I decided to complement it with some other items with names like uppama, pongal, aloo mutter, with some coconut chutney thrown in for good measure. Slightly full of trepidation and eyeing the french toast bar, I took my first bite. Like a blinding flash of light miracle, all of my best India experiences flooded my being, my chakras opened their eternal flame, tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes and I pounced on the plate of food as if transformed into a starving dog. It became clear to me in an instant why India is the fount of meditative bliss, the land of nirvana.
I glanced around me nervously to see if any of the fellow breakfast guests were looking at me curiously. The food was so delicate, so delectable, that I had to fill my plate a second time and vacuumed all of it straight through my mouth into my soul. It was all I could do to keep from choking up with gratitude when I complimented the chef, who only shot me a puzzled look and said “Yes, you try our Indian food!” As if I hadn’t been doing that for over 30 years… So it’s adieu, farewell, lebewohl, namaste phir malinge french toast for breakfast forever, hello bliss. Thank you Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan for the experience!