I was absolutely paralyzed in agony. Eventually, my entire face came to feel as if it could have warmed a piece of metal intended for the blacksmith’s hammer and anvil if only it was placed nearby. When I finished my drinking glass arm curls, my body felt like it was shrinking in upon itself, my stomach like it was as small as a thimble.
For some time afterwards, the muscles in my face were vibrating, shivering and silently ululating a cry for mercy. The whole ordeal lasted about five minutes, and then I was back together again, jiggety-jig. All that from one accursed vegetable no bigger than my index finger. Thankfully, besides that memorable incident, my experience with food has been very good, and nothing that I have eaten since has been “too” spicy.
Among all of my host families, the meals have varied little. Roti —a simple circular and flattened piece of cooked bread — is eaten together with sabji, any form of cooked and spiced vegetables. Lastly, before entirely filling one’s stomach on roti and sabji, rice and daal are eaten. Daal is simply a lentil broth flavored with spices and finely minced vegetables. Unlike our favored butter and salt, in India, rice is eaten with daal poured over it, creating a colorful hassle to eat with one hand.
When the food has been exhausted, usually following the fifth plea to stop, it is common to either drink a glass of buttermilk or eat a handful of mukhwas, a mixture of fennel, sugar and anise seeds. Mukhwas is a necessary mouth freshener and, like the buttermilk, is said to help with digestion. Besides dinner, which is usually eaten between 8 and 9 p.m., the other meal timings are the same.
You may have noticed the absence of meat from my descriptions. Throughout my exchange, I have eaten meat just once, and eggs only occasionally. The meat I ate — lamb shish kebab from an excellent restaurant —was not at all agreeable to my stomach, as I painfully found out at some small hour of the following morning. Following the Hindu culture of India, all of my families are strictly vegetarian.