When I knew that Sudhakar, barely 20 years old, was coming from Delhi, I shed all shame and groveled for food.
No woman stuck InNoDairyNesia could pass on a chance to import Indian food, man. You know what India has that Indonesia doesn't? Dairy products. And dairy-based sweetmeat. And Soan Papdi.
The Timekeeper always said that there are two hungers: Hunger in your stomach, and hunger below your stomach. And if you can't feed below the stomach, just eat twice.
Hence, everything there is to know about a place and the people who live there can be observed from the way food is prepared, presented and consumed. Life long relationships are forged or ended witnessed by food: Weddings, Super Bowl, Lebaran, funerals. Some of the most expensive shows on TV are based on food.
So you can imagine how easy it was for me to shower Sudhakar with respect and adoration based on a whole half a kilo of soan papdi, slowly installed in credits to my width.
People who work together tend to cluster around the same food and accommodations. And that's where things really happened between volunteers: When they ate together.
During one of these highly-recommended communal dinners, a pretty volunteer walks in and greets Sudhakar:
"Sweet Kutta, how are you?"
To my horror, Sudhakar smiled and returned her salutation in his obscenely sweeter manner.
Now, anywhere in this post, you can switch the "food" with "sex"; because they share the same forms of cultural expression. In places where food is abundant, sex too is abundant. In places where food is treated with meticulous preparation and ritualistic consumption, you can pretty much imagine how the people there behave in private.
But to respond nicely after being called a "sweet kutta" sent the big sister in me kicking. So what if she was pretty and he's vegetarian? Harassment is never okay ANYWHERE.
I held my mouth until the pretty one left, before commencing on bullying my adopted little brother and sole papdi stocker. "Did I just see you being polite to someone who called you kutta?"
There was a moment cross-cultural absorption on Sudhakar's face before he said, "Do you know what kutta means?"
"Of course I do!" I fumed. "Do you want me to hit that sweet kutti for you?"
A few more blinks. Then, "She said, Gupta. Sudhakar GUPTA! That's my name." And he laughed softly in that oh-so-polite voice. "No more papdis for you, Bhabi, I think your blood sugar level is messing up your hearing."
Laughing, I obeyed. I wasn't hungry anymore. The intimacy of a private joke in a crowded place marked the evening, marked him, with gentle companionship, whether or not there was food shared between us.