I came down to a table set for three, though there is no one else. It is dead silent.
I walk into the kitchen. It is clean and appears empty. No sign of food. I am starving, having eaten very little since the day before.
I call out “Hello?”
Immediately a man appears.
“Breakfast?” I ask in English. I don’t speak Tamil. I am not certain he does either.
“Hanh.” He nods his head, and within seconds presents a rice dish with coconut sauce
“Tea or coffee Madam?”
I am in India – “Chai please”
“Hanh” he nods his head and within a minute a hot cup of chai appears.
As I begin my breakfast, a Japanese women comes from her room to join me for hers.
We introduce ourselves and begin our chit-chat in simple English.
“Where are you from?” She asks.
“Toronto ... Canada” I say.
She looks surprised.
“Well, my parents are from Northern India – Himachal Pradesh”
She smiles with the look of that makes more sense.
“Aah! I love Tokyo! I went there I guess 10 years ago now.”
“What brings you to Chennai?” She asks.
“A yoga course” I say
“Ah – you are a yoga instructor?”
“Yes” I say, and leave it at that. I never tell anyone I am a physician. “And yourself? What brings you here?”
“Books – paper. Hand made paper books” She excuses herself and quickly returns with samples. Beautiful artisan silk screen printed books on handmade paper. They look and feel amazing. She hands me the one on yoga poses.
“Tara Books. Special to Chennai.”
I say “Paper is very special in Japanese culture, yes?” She nods smiling.
“You like?” She asks me.
“Yes – they are beautiful” Truly like nothing I have seen before. Hand made, lino-cut and silk screened prints. Art.
“The publisher is around the corner. Big book store downstairs.”
Great. Me who is trying to become a minimalist, happens upon a store selling my crack. Books, and beautiful ones no less. I promise her I will go as there is nothing more relaxing to me then wandering in a store full of books. It will be a great day off.
“My mother was a librarian” I tell her “I love books. My house is full of books.” We smile and acknowledge this common connection – bibliophiles. We are the same.
Then a Japanese gentleman comes out. I assume they are together, but they are not.
He tells me he is a chef, here learning to cook Indian cuisine, first here in Chennai, then he will go to Kerala to learn to make Fish Curry – Varkala style.
“Varkala! I love it there!” Well I loved it when I was there 13 years ago! Then my mind wanders off to a memory …
I went to Varkala with my mom. We stayed in a hostel I had found listed in the Lonely Planet. Once we settled in, my mom quickly dawned on her bathing suit, threw a towel over her shoulder, and walked out of our room like she was in Hawaii.
“Mom” I said, “Cover yourself! We are in India!”
“Oh!” she said, “I forgot!” It’s her motherland.
We went to the beach, where a young backpacker offered to share her umbrella. We took her up on her offer, given there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
The beach was beautiful, and my mother was quickly tempted by the waves. Off she went to body surf, taking another young backpacker with her. They were out there for a while. A few other travellers joined them. She was smiling the whole time, so free and happy, enjoying life at 68 like she was in her 20s. It was nice to see her like that.
“Your mom is cool” said the backpacker under whose umbrella we were sitting. “I wish my mom was like that.” I remember looking at her and smiling. If she only knew. I bet every daughter thinks that other moms are cooler than their own mother.
Then my mind brings itself back to the present company. We talked about India, the North where I am from, and Toronto.
“In Toronto” I tell them, “there are many people from all over the world.”
“Japanese too? “ they ask.
“Yes there are many Japanese there. But maybe more Koreans”
“Ah yes, Koreans.”
“And right now, Ramen noodles are everywhere!” The two of them laugh.
“Also – Japanese-style bars… what are they called?” The word escapes me. Them too, but then the woman looks up and says “Isakaya!”
“Yes! Isakaya.” I say ”So much fun!”
“What food they serve?” The chef asks.
“Sushi… gyoza… tempura… fried tofu…”
“Also – fried chicken?” He asks.
“Yes, I think so.” I say “And edamame”
“Edamame!” They both laugh. “Ok good – it's authentic Isakaya!”
Then Chef asks: “ What to drink? You have Asahi?”
“Yes!” I say “And Sapporo”
“With the gold star?”
“Yes! And saki – many kinds.”
They laugh and smile “It’s good. It’s good. Typical Isakaya”
I tell them they are very popular in Toronto and they seem proud.
We finish breakfast and part on our own ways to explore the day. I forgot what fun it was to connect with other travellers from around the world. This is beginning to feel like an adventure.