Shukla-Ji is an older Indian gentleman, with side-parted hair and missing teeth. He climbs mountains and cooks food. He speaks impeccable English. I am glad to know him. Shukla-ji is the humble owner of the teal-green guesthouse on the other side of our garden. He cooks amazing dahl soups, makes homemade chapattis, serves spicy yogurt curry, and heaps serving after serving of mouthwatering aloo gobi on our plates. We order our food from him a day early, so he can prepare it fresh for us. I love eating in his “kitchen,” because it is a kitchen, dining room, and bedroom all rolled into one. It is very cozy.
Purnima and I often go there for breakfast, and sit and chat over tea as either Shukla-ji or the young boy he employs prepare our food. They stand at the stove, flipping chapattis and stirring rice, while Purnima and I laugh and talk about anything that comes to mind. When the food is cooked, they serve it to us at the small wooden table, and then they take a seat on the bed against the wall. Anytime we want anything, or a dish needs to be cleared, they jump up off the bed and take care of it. As we finish dinner, they wash dishes at the sink and chat with us about our days, about yoga and reading, the weather and Indian politics. Books line the walls, and the thin cotton curtains flutter in and out, revealing a grey monsoon sky, or climbing mist as it ascends the hills.
Today I had lunch alone. Shukla-ji told me about his four children, and how he and his wife are now in the process of searching for some “good girls” to make wives for their sons. He told me that arranged marriage is highly successful in India, because parents are older and wiser, and tend to make better decisions about who will partner well with their children. He asked me about American “love marriages” and shook his head sadly when I told him that fifty percent of all marriages in our country end in divorce. As I collected my umbrella to go, he brightened a bit, and said, “Sarah-ji, will you be coming for lunch tomorrow? If so, I will bring fresh organic okra from the market and make you a special curry.” I nodded my head enthusiastically. “Okay, okay, great,” he said, wiping his hands and thinking. “And again I will make you dahl soup, rice, and chapattis?” he asked, his head cocked. I agreed, and he gave a satisfied nod. Then we waved goodbye, and Shukla-ji and his homemade kitchen disappeared in the mist as I climbed the hill to my home.