Birthday BBQ

Swinging on a hammock strung from a thatched roof, I was enjoying a cup of chai on my birthday (Jan 5), pondering whether or not to lather on some mosquito repellent. I was devoting a day to exploring Auroville, a "universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony" as a second-to-last-stop in India before I jetted off to American soil.
Just as I was about to order myself a birthday dinner of egg masala dosa with a side of Bombay toast, 4 Indians and a German rose to leave the outdoor cafe. There wasn't even an introduction, but one of them went, "We're having a BBQ. You hungry?"
And I went, "Yeah."
And he went, "OK. You like fish?"
And I went, "If it's fresh."
And so I hopped on his motorbike, clutching a bag full of hours-ago-alive mackerel in my right hand and a plastic bag full of charcoal in my left. Off we roared through dirt trails and winding paths (Auroville thrives on ecofriendliness and natural roads), leading us to a thatched hut that was built out of all-natural materials, like most homes in Auroville.
For the next 20 minutes, we argued over how to make a fire. Two of the Indians were from Mumbai and had absolutely no idea what was required. I contributed by commenting about dry wood and some flint, maybe a couple of squirts of fuel from the motorbike's tank. The German guy didn't understand anything - his English was a bit slow. The third Indian was content smoking his joint while staring at the rest of us. And the Aurovillean host, having the advantage of several fire-starting experiences under his belt, finalized the decision by ordering all of us to find branches and break off dry twigs.
Once the fire started, Mr. Joint's job was to fan the fire every 5 minutes or so with a tin plate to make sure the flames didn't lose their vivacity. It took three hours to cut the vegetables and to clean and marinate the fish, not because it was a tedious task, but because the German and the host were involved in a deep conversation about finding the true purpose of existence, one was in charge of the fire, and the other 2 Indians and I debated over what spices to use and how we wanted to cook the fish.
But, as they wisely proclaim, "Patience is a virtue," and at 11:30 pm we all squatted around the fire. A delicious array of baked potatoes, masala-roasted mackerel, and barbequed onions lay spread out on the makeshift grill, along with a skillet of calamari that had oozed black ink and turned into what the Indian to my direct right called "cow shit." We set the calamari out for the cats to devour.
Then, we all ate until our stomachs bulged. My breaking point was when I couldn't even squat anymore because my stomach was being pressured by the weight of my thighs. A mere shift in position afforded more space for some extra mackerel.
We all rolled back, and it was then that I realized how much all 5 of these guys had smoked while I'd been oblivious to the number of joints being passed around (I say No! to drugs, like a good Mormon). In the middle of a conversation about potatoes, the fat Indian guy across from me suddenly asked, "What if there were a round classroom, like this?"
With a twig, he drew a circle in the dirt.
"And what if the teacher said, 'Go stand in the corner. Where do you go?'"
Then he started laughing hysterically. I couldn't help myself. It was a funny joke, and the randomness made it even more worthy. I joined in. Life is great. A fish BBQ on the night of my birthday under a starry sky, eavesdropping on Mr. German commenting on his mission to find The Divine Path of His Life, and slapping thighs with Mr. Fatty whenever he cracked a joke was the perfect almost-ending to a perfect vacation in India.

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