This account of wonderful writer and blogger Barb Taub’s visit to India is the perfect antidote to a cold and miserable January.
The story of three women eating their way across India in search of adventure, elephants, temples, palaces, western toilets, monkeys, the perfect paratha… and the kindness of Indian strangers.
Once upon the Land Before Time (or at least before mobile phones), my two best friends and I decided to leave the US from separate locations and meet up in Europe. To everyone’s shock, Janine, Jaya and I pulled it off—mostly because we went to Luxembourg, a country so small the odds in favor of chance street encounters were almost 100%, but also because Jaya was carrying the BS, a blue suitcase so enormous it took up approximately a third of the country’s square footage and was visible on satellite images. We couldn’t possibly miss.
It took over thirty-five years before—in a combination of optimism and failing memories— we recklessly decided to repeat this feat. Hey, we reasoned, now we’ve got smartphones, better credit ratings, wheeled suitcases, medical insurance, and the ability to drink legally. Just to make it more interesting, this time we chose to meet in India, where the odds against the three of us actually linking up were approximately a bazillion to bupkis.
Despite blizzards, canceled flights, de-icing delays, and an adjacent passenger who had made unfortunate food choices resulting in alarming gastrointestinal events, I arrived in India. The theory was that I would fly in from my home in Scotland, Janine would come from Washington DC, and Jaya would meet up with us at the airport. Nobody who knows any of us thought for a second that this could really occur.
Actual conversation at Passport Control, Mumbai:
Janine: “Well no, I don’t have my friend’s address or phone number. But she’s going to pick me up at the airport. She lives in Gujarat. That’s in India.”
Passport Control: (SO not impressed)
I arrived before Janine. As far as I could tell, the Ahmedabad Airport was staffed by the entire Indian army, each soldier carrying a honking huge gun. I grabbed my suitcase and exited baggage control into India. Noise. Chaos. People, dogs, honking horns, more people. More soldiers. More guns. Dozens of sincere men who called me “Sister” and suggested they could take me anywhere on the planet I might want to go.
No Janine. No Jaya. And, apparently, no way to get back into the airport. After several failed attempts at international texts, I realized I could (at heart-stopping expense) send email to Jaya, who soon confirmed that she was on her way and that it was 3:00AM so I should go back inside. Except there were signs everywhere saying you couldn’t go back in.
“No problem.” Jaya explained that rules in India are more like guidelines. “People in India are very kind. Just ask.”
I’ve been living in the UK where rules are inviolate and graven in stone, so I didn’t believe a word of it. But the soldier at the door listened to my plea and waved his AK-Humongo to usher me back inside. There I found Janine attempting to send email or text. I reminded her neither option was likely for two technologically-challenged, jet-lagged, middle-aged ladies in a foreign country at 3:00AM.
In the end, we wandered over to the door and to our mutual amazement found Jaya waiting for us along with a hired driver and a van. Apparently lightning does strike again, because just like thirty-five years earlier, the three of us actually managed to meet up in another continent.
What could possibly go wrong from here?
Barb, Janine and Jaya have been friends for more than thirty years. They once managed to successfully meet up in a different continent and decided to try this again with a visit to India.
Barb (originally from the US) travels in from Scotland, Janine flies from Washington, and Jaya, who lives in India meets them at the airport. And so begins a fabulous trip, documented brilliantly in this very funny memoir.
If you read Barb’s blog (and I strongly recommend that you do) you will be expecting sharp, witty writing, clever observations and the feeling that you’re listening to an old friend telling you about her travels. And that is exactly what you get. Barb tells it like it is and paints a realistic, vibrant picture of a colourful country.
Much of the trip seems to have been spent eating and the descriptions of the food and hospitality are wonderful to read. Wildlife, culture, architecture and people are all beautifully and fondly depicted but this is far from a romanticised view. Horrendously dangerous driving is par for the course and Barb’s very funny account (sorry Barb!) of her unfortunate case of ‘Delhi belly’ tells of a rather worrying ease of access to strong medication!
This is a lovely way to spend an afternoon with your feet up, immersing yourself into the colours, smells and sights of a fascinating place, but do be warned, you might just find yourself hankering after a visit yourself!
Find a copy here.