The ticking time bomb seems to get heavier by the minute while I fearfully await its imminent explosion. Heavy footsteps come closer and closer. I start to sweat profusely, hoping that they will pass, somehow ignoring my presence. Then they tower over me with their smiling faces and their enormous steaming bowls of rice: “more madam? Yes?”. I splutter out my excuses in severely broken Tamil…”I am full, really. Yes the food is delicious. Yes if I eat more I sincerely believe I will burst and really I don’t want to stain your beautiful white walls with my innards”… however they look at me with sympathy while ladling spoon after spoon of rice onto my plate. I imagine that they probably believe me to be somewhat simple or at the least a bit slow, most likely they attribute it to the lack of rice I consume…
Here I must pause to explain. I am sure anybody that has traveled to an Asian country has experienced this problem. Food is almost militantly forced upon your plate until you finally are quick enough to shield your plate with your entire body to stop the never ending flow. Now I don’t want to sound ungracious here as I love the food and the generosity with which it is served. More than anything though I always find the serving of food, especially in the countryside and on Pongal ( the biggest holiday here), rather amusing as it always seems to turn into some sort of a game. Food is served sitting on the ground in a row and is eaten with your hands on banana leaves which you fold over when you are done. It is also served by the women (who eat separately afterwards) who walk around with the bowls of the 200 different things they are serving constantly refilling that dish once you have about half finished it (generally 2-3 handfuls).
It is a sin to leave more than a mouthful of food. I have to my benefit the fact that I eat slower than all the Indians. They have to their advantage the fact that I speak no Tamil, am a foreigner and am a Canadian. See, Canadians are exceptionally polite in all matters. I mean, really polite as in apologizing when someone bumps into you and all that. So for me to say “No! I don’t want any more food!” is almost impossible. Instead it comes out like “umm..no thanks. I really don’t want to hurt your feelings by declining because the food is excellent and you are being so nice. I would just rather not eat any more because it makes me feel a bit, y’know, physically uncomfortable, eh?”. However that is translated somehow as “yes! Give me more!”. I really don’t know how that happens but for my own health I have to figure it out otherwise at this rate I will roll back to Canada in April.
However I have devised a bit of a plan. See, they generally refill on the basis of what your favorite is. So it is possible to reject a refill once or maybe twice but by the third time they assume they have what you want and you are not asked. Rice refills can only legitimately be declined after you have eaten about half you body weight in rice. I figure that if I equally eat very slowly a little bit of everything they can’t refill until the piles get lower than normal. When they finally realize that I am getting low on everything they go to get more. Here I start stuff everything really fast in my mouth, decline the first refill and by the time they come with the second option I am calmly sitting back, my banana leaf neatly folded over with rice kernels falling out of the sides of my mouth, grinning very contently.