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One Indian Christmas

There used to be, earlier this decade in the school that I work for, an Indian college student who was under the care of the Brothers. His name was Kishore. He was tall, handsome and dark-skinned, as people from the South of India – he explained to me one day – rather tend to be.

In exchange for his college education, he did menial jobs for the Brothers’ Community when he was not attending classes at the college, where he was trying to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management.

It was around this time when I finally convinced the Brother Lolo that that tiny office we had under the bleachers of the gymnasium had become a wee bit too cramped for all of us who worked in External Affairs. The Brother Lolo looked and sounded like Trajan granting us a piece of the Roman Empire when he summoned me to announce that – since the Brothers had new quarters at the newly constructed Hall of Lasallian Saints – we would be moving to the old Brothers’ House.

What could I have said? There would be no air-conditioning but we would nonetheless be having the luxury of having more space than we actually needed. So we moved…

That was how we all got to know Kishore a little better. We had all seen him from a distance; and because he was dark skinned, he was fairly easy to spot when he walked around the campus. Besides, this was long before international students came to study here; so it was easy to pick out a foreigner.

The Brothers had given him the room next to our office as his lodging; so we got to see him every now and again. Occasionally, he would even drop in on us to see what was going on and would volunteer to help out with whatever chores needed to be done.

One day, when we were all wondering what we could do for our office Christmas party that would make it different from the ones we had had in the past, somebody suggested that we ask Kishore to cook an authentic Indian dinner for us.

It seemed like a great idea! I had talked to Kishore about that possibility before and he had always expressed his willingness to cook for us; we just did not have an excuse for when to do it. The Christmas party offered the perfect opportunity!

Great! It was all arranged, then! We would all pitch in for the ingredients; some would go to the market to buy these; and one of our officemates volunteered his home for the cooking.

Now, of course, we all knew what we were letting ourselves in for! We did not need to be Albert Einsteins to know that the food we would be getting during the Christmas party would be a tad on the spicy side. What we did not know – and this was the cause of all the excitement – was exactly how spicy!

So the day of the party finally came. We sang our obligatory Christmas carols while waiting for the food to arrive. When it did, nothing looked extraordinarily threatening. On the contrary, the food inside the pots looked hardly different from we were all used to.

Naturally, we had chicken curry. There was also beef cooked with black pepper and onions. I cannot recall what the others were; all I can recall was that everyone had pretty much the same reaction to the food when we all finally sat down to eat. It was not as hot as we all feared it would be.

Ten minutes later, that initial assessment had changed radically! Everyone’s mouth was on fire! Maybe it was my imagination; but I could have sworn for a moment I thought that was steam coming out of everyone’s ear! I had to restrain myself from calling the Fire Department!

Unlike the spicy Filipino foods which bite instantly – and which we naturally avoid if we have little tolerance for the spiciness – the food we were served tasted even bland initially. Then the linings inside the mouth started to burn just a little; then some more; and some more; until suddenly, the mouth felt like it was certifiably on fire!

I remember the bottles of Sprite and Coke quickly emptied…

Put it this way; the officemate who offered his home for the cooking felt he had an obligation to narrate the scenes at his place earlier in the afternoon. Unlike most of us who will carefully lace the food we cook with sprinkles of ground black pepper, Kishore would scoop the black pepper up with his palm!

It actually came to the point whereby our officemate felt he had to grab Kishore’s wrist with both hands and beg him not to drop the spices into the pot! And not that he was successful, considering our flushed faces and glassy eyes…

We had invited the Brother Lolo and he was kind enough to come for a look-see. He said he was going out for dinner and that did not really want to eat; we were having none of it, of course! Not when, to the last person, we all had beads of sweat on our foreheads that we had to periodically wipe with handkerchiefs and mucus running freely inside our noses.

Before long, even the Brother Lolo’s face was flushed red! He was doing his best to seem as though he was coping perfectly well and thought nothing of it; but truth be told, he was as tortured as the rest of us by this crazy spicy Indian Christmas dinner! I do not believe he ever particularly liked being laughed at; but we all laughed at him, nonetheless!

The following year – naturally – we had a conventional office Christmas party with conventional party food.

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