Story and photos by Carol Stigger
Praise the Lord and Pass the Curry – but not on the church bus!
Church picnic! Can you taste the fried chicken, potato salad, coleslaw, homemade ice cream, and cherry pie? If that’s what you want, call Martha Stewart.
This church picnic was in India, two hours away by church bus. The rusty rattletrap was packed full; the “Let’s Praise the Lord Band” and their instruments perched on the front seats. And off we went, loudly praising, then loudly singing hit Hindu songs. Men did traditional dances, moves modified by narrow aisles, the swaying of the bus, and close encounters with cows.
Samosas and sweets were doled out on paper plates and distributed in Indian-orderly fashion that I have not yet figured out. Enough order. Time for the 12-ounce plastic bags of boiled water. Raju, master of ceremonies and anointed apostle of jokes, tossed the water bags to people randomly. The plastic is flimsy, so some were baptized with safe, but unsanctified, water.
It is improper to mess up the church bus, so out the window flew banana peels, coconut shells, paper plates, plastic bottles and bags, napkins, and various parts of various butts of jokes.
Merriment continued throughout the 15-minute wait at the train crossing. That was before the train arrived. Crossings are not electronic. Gates go up and down by man power, a rope and pulley and a steel box loaded with big rocks. The gates go down 10 minutes before the train is scheduled to arrive, not according to when it will actually arrive.
Mussolini never went to India to get the trains running on time, and it would have been a socially responsible act to trot him through India before they hanged him in Milan. Anyway, the cars, buses, cycles, rickshaws, ox carts, dogs, cows, goats, and trucks fill up the asphalt and any available shoulder space. When the crossing Fascist deems enough time has passed that the train just might be delayed, he calls the railroad company for the ETA. Then, he has to make the egregious decision to leave the gates down, or let ‘em rip. This is the most exciting part of crossing the tracks. Two solid walls of traffic going in opposite directions. I don’t know how they sort it out, but no one gets angry as threads of traffic weave across the tracks.
The venue was a pleasant shady oasis in the drought-stricken land. We sat on blankets and belted out favorite songs and danced our version of India MTV while the Let’s Praise the Lord Band bleated, bonged, and strummed along.
Chicken curry burbled in a cauldron over an open fire stirred with cricket bats by teams of men fending off little boys who clutched balls and negotiated the time the bats would be put to their intended use. Curry smoke stunned mosquitoes mid-whine and kept kraits (venomous Indian snakes) coiled under the porch where women shaped chapatis and slung them over the rail.
“Eat lots rice, leetle curry,” I was advised. But I relish the flaming-dragon-spices of India. I broke off a piece of chapati for a spoon and stuffed leetle rice and lots curry in my mouth. That was four days ago, and I still cannot wear my partial plate. Gum blisters. But at the moment, the party thought I was doing a traditional dance — not writhing in pain gasping “water” in Hindi -- Paanee!!! -- and wishing I knew “fire hydrant.”
I sat by the window on the way home, my face gritty with dung-tainted dust. I started to close the window. “Don’t do,” Nirmala advised pulling her scarf over her nose. “Curry is started to be passed.”
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