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Saying Goodbye

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On my last morning in Bhanwar, it was less hazy than it had been. I could see the snowcapped Himalayas from Prem’s rooftop which had been hiding in the mist all along. We all kind of moped around. I wished I could stay longer, but it was time to go to Poonam’s wedding.

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Nabu (left), Archna (right) and their mother.

The girls next door had been calling to me all morning. “Auntie, please, don’t go!” They all knew there were only a few hours left before I had to leave. I went over to say goodbye. They were so lovely and had come over the most often to visit and dance. I took pictures of them with their  mother. I’m sorry to say I don’t know their mother’s name. No one had actually introduced her to me.

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Prem needed to iron a shirt, but he had to make a repair first.

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Meena was busy making lunch, so Prem ironed the shirt and pants he was going to wear that day. He always wears a dress shirt and slacks when he’s on the job.

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It had been a very special week for me, getting to know this lovely family and their neighbors. We had shared so much fun and laughter. They had taken care of me just as if I were a member of the family. We went down to the car. The children hugged me one last time. And Meena, unlike the shy, fleeting embrace she had given me on our first meeting, held onto me for a long time. When she released me, a tear slid down her cheek. I was so moved.

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“Don’t cry, Meena,” I said. “I will come again.”

I will most certainly come again, and I’ll make every effort to return even before Priya’s wedding.

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Diwali

Diwali is one of the most important Hindu festivals. It’s a five-day celebration, also known as the Festival of Lights. Families perform rituals in their homes.

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Priya created designs of paint and flower petals on the floor in front of each room, which bestows blessings on the room.

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She decorated the patio with paintings.

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Both the family and the neighbors approved of my Diwali outfit.

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Prem created a shrine and invited me in the room to share in their celebration.

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They performed some rituals, did some prayers and sang.

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The house was festively decorated.

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Candles were lit on the patio.

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Then it was time for fireworks! Firecrackers are especially popular for keeping away evil spirits.  The boys had the most fun, lighting the firecrackers.

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Diwali celebrations next door.

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After dinner, Prem brought his music system outside, and the kids from several neighboring houses came over to dance. A great celebration!

Meena’s Cooking

Meena is an excellent cook. She prepared a number of tasty dishes during my stay. The Baliyani family is vegetarian. They eat dairy products but no eggs.

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Aloo gobi and roti.

Aloo is potato; gobi is cauliflower. Roti is an  unleavened wheat bread.

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The aloo gobi was delicious!

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Daal (lentil soup) and rice with a lump of butter, which Meena also makes herself. They have a buffalo which produces milk, and Meena has an electric butter churner.

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Channa masala and saag paneer.

My birthday dinner was so good! Channa is Hindi for chickpeas. Masala means spices. Meena knew I couldn’t handle chili peppers, and she spiced everything appropriately. It had many spices in it, just nothing that burned. Saag is spinach, paneer is cheese. Indian cheese typically does not melt easily the way mozzarella does. It’s closer to cottage cheese but has the consistency of tofu.

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Poori.

Meena’s poori is so good! Poori is a puffed bread with a delicate dusting of sugar so there’s only a hint of sweetness. After the dough is rolled, she drops it directly onto the embers and it puffs up.

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Gobi paranthas, soon to be demolished.

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Biryani, a rice dish with lentils and beans, with melted butter on the side.

Meena’s Kitchen

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Meena’s kitchen, the only room so far on the second floor, is very basic.

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There are no countertops or tables for food prep. She has a two-burner propane stovetop, but it’s hard to get a replacement propane tank to the house so she cooks over a wood fire most of the time. The black pot over the fire is for heating water for bathing and washing dishes.

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There are no cabinets, just shelves. Priya has added her artistic touch to the papers lining the shelves.

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Meena cooks everything from scratch. No canned or frozen food. She has no freezer. Canned food isn’t readily available in this area. Even if it was, it would be too expensive. Here she separates hulls from chickpeas.

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Mincing cauliflower.

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Rolling the dough for paranthas.

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A parantha is similar in appearance to a stuffed tortilla. The minced cauliflower with herbs and spices is added on top of the first layer of dough as a filling. A second layer of dough is rolled to cover the filling, and the edges are pinched to seal it inside. Then it is put on the tawa, an Indian griddle, for cooking.

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Meena flips over the parantha on the tawa without a spatula.

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Meena gets the fire going again by blowing on the embers through a bamboo tube.

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Meena’s food processor.

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There’s no sink in Meena’s kitchen, just a corner of the room with a drainhole. No plumbing, either. They carry in water from the tank just outside.