Written by Dallon Asnes, (Pomona College) Student Correspondent UW in India, Spring 2017
It’s hard to decide which was tougher, saying goodbye to the friends that I have lived with for the past few months, or being able to finish all of the extravagant food that’s been given to us as everyone says their goodbyes.
My first goodbye meal was with the host family. We were a close-knit group; two American students, one student from Sweden, the host family (both immediate and extended relatives), and Vikash who shared the room with me. The night before the first of us departed, a few nights before my departure, Auntie wanted us to have a group feast on the roof. She asked us for entree suggestions and we decided on paneer butter masala, a dish that she’d never cooked before, but she was excited to try a recipe she found online. Vikash and I got done with our packing early in the afternoon so we got to work peeling and cutting the ingredients for our alu sabzi. White rice would be our other side and we would later be surprised with fresh cut mango and butterscotch ice cream.
Our next goodbye meal was at the end of the year program at the program house. I enjoyed seeing the final products of everyone’s tutorial throughout the course of the semester, but the dosa/laddu/kulfi meal combo stuck out most in my mind.
After the program ended, I returned home where the family had just finished celebrating the 11th birthday of Krishna (my youngest host brother). I headed upstairs to wish him a happy birthday (and hoping that there might be some birthday cake left over). Once I got upstairs, the attention turned to me. Auntie brought me out more ice cream and the birthday cake they had saved for me. Since it was the night before I left Varanasi, all of the family members came out to say their goodbyes. Uncle helped his mother, Dadiji, out into the dining room, where the two of them presented me with my favorite type of laddu. She then promised to make me a laddu from her own recipe if I could make it back to the house for lunch the next day before I left for the airport.
Auntie and Uncle then jumped in and said I should definitely come back home for a final lunch the next day; Auntie promised she would make yet another special meal and Uncle said he would take the day off of work to join us.
My last day in Varanasi began with omelets, bananas and a spread of four boxes of different Indian sweets for breakfast. Within the hour, I was stuffed. I began my rounds of saying goodbye to the program house staff and my classmates and soon after took off for home where I knew yet another extravagant meal would be waiting for me.
After a couple of hours to finish up my packing, I made my way upstairs. Dadiji immediately handed me a hot bowl of halwa that she made out of her laddu recipe and I dug into that immediately. I then sat down at the table with Auntie and Uncle, where they had laid out our three thalis (pictured). True to my clumsy form, I spilled the hot dal all over my lap as I sat down at the table, burning my hands and leaving a mess on the floor in the process. After changing my clothes (and after Auntie’s servant cleaned up the dal mess on my seat), we sat down for our final meal. Auntie and Uncle recapped our time together and I made sure they knew how much I appreciated living in a homestay with a family that was so kind and engaging. We exchanged gifts (they handed me another box of laddu and I gave them the painting and souvenirs I had been saving since our Chennai trip). We promised to stay in touch as I made my way downstairs to grab my bags and head to the airport.