India continues to surprise me at almost two weeks in. This past weekend, Taylor and I visited our friend Krishna, a tall, slender, and incredibly kind twenty-something whom I met through couchsurfing. He invited us over to watch a movie Sunday night at his apartment in Koramangala, a nice neighborhood in south-east Bangalore. Skip the headache of booking a cab outside Truffles and becoming lost trying to find the place, and we walk into a tidy, marble floored, minimalist three-bedroom apartment.
On the TV was something that vaguely resembled a sport. Seven men in green were holding hands on the left, turning together in a half-circle, while one man in yellow jumped around on the right, trying to touch the others. The court was purple and wavy like a potato chip¹. When the man in yellow did touch an opposing player, he immediately sprinted back across the line where his team stood cheering. But more often than not, he would make it only a few steps before being violently tackled and pinned down by all seven men in green, similar to the way farmers would pin down an errant pig.
“If any part of his body makes it across his team’s line, then all the players he touched are out”, Krishna said, as we watched a man’s body become immobilized by seven angry men. “Oh, and he’s not allowed to take a breath until he returns to his home base.”
‘[In Kabaddi] to win a point, the raider must take a breath, run into the opposing half, tag one or more members of the opposite team, then return to his home half before inhaling again. The raider will chant “kabaddi, kabaddi” with his exhaling breath to show the referee he has not inhaled.’²
The sport is one of the oldest in the world originating in South Asia and is said to have been played by Gotama, the Buddha. The holding of one’s breath for long periods of time to control internal organs is called ‘Pranayama’ in yoga. In Kabaddi, it is called the ‘Cant’.
While we watched the madness ensuing on screen, Krishna helped me check off a goal of mine for the trip: taste homemade achaar. When I heard that pickles are common with many Indian dishes, my respect for the country multiplied. On the plane ride here, my excitement was stoked even more by a documentary on achaar which was preloaded on the headrest TV. This is when I learned the base of their “pickles” are most commonly either mango or lime, others include pumpkin, lotus stem, ginger, jackfruit, and eggplant, but cucumbers are not typically used. I became somewhat skeptical, but still I had to know. Krishna brought out jars of pickled mango, garlic, and jalapenos. My first thought was that whoever decided ‘pickle’ should be the standard translation of ‘achaar’ made a serious mistake. There is very little the two have in common. They are both pickled, but the end results are drastically different. I suppose, though, an American pickled cucumber might be the closest thing we have to Indian achaar, but that comparison is entirely misleading. The brine is thick and red. It is composed of many intense spices: asafoetida, red chili powder, turmeric, and fenugreek until you can barely make out the flavor of the mango chunks it covers. The flavor puts your mouth in a state of shock and then confusion. You are not sure if you want another one, nor if you want to continue chewing the current one. At the same time, I want one right now. After achaar, my tastebuds will never be the same.
New experiences continue to present themselves, and with each I find a new part of myself. Every day is fresh and unpredictable. Some theme is emerging and I think it’s this: what I really want out of life is unpredictability. When I’m asked where I see myself in ten years, I respond, “I don’t want to know.” Although I could see myself in a number of positions, any choice I make is still a choice and that’s the problem. But opportunities continue to unfold and I’ll happily take advantage of them and try to live each day honestly. Then, at each step, I’ll already be exactly where I need to be. It isn’t the destination, but the journey that counts and this journey has been an incredibly one.
P.S. I will update this with pictures later.
- The wavy potato chip design is the manufacturer’s clever way of fitting more surface area into the same size chip. Similarly, the surface area of the Kabaddi court is maximized in order to increase friction between the player’s shoe and the floor.