Barb Taub is one of the wittiest writers I know, and her latest book – Do Not Wash Hands in Plates – did not disappoint. My smile muscles hurt by the time I finished it.
This is a travelogue with a twist, a repeat adventure of three friends (Americans Barb and Janine and an Indian, Jaya) of one they had taken four decades before. Only this time instead of the relatively small country of Belgium, they chose to meet in India, where Jaya lives. After overcoming as many obstacles as the board game of that name, they managed to find each other at the Ahmedabad Airport without the use of digital devices and spent their first days at Jaya’s house – where their itinerary was “1. Eat. 2. Rest up from eating. 3. Eat more. 4. Go into jetlag coma.”
The first part of their vacation was spent on a train, where they all were relegated to upper bunks. Arriving in Agra, they discovered the Taj Mahal was closed because of President Obama’s visit, but they found some lesser but equally impressive monuments to visit and spent a lot of the time eating. In fact, eating was one of their main forms of entertainment and torture.
The reader is treated to instructions on how to shop in India, to queue, to haggle down the price of a souvenir, to navigate without a GPS (ask anyone), and to cross a road safely.
The three friends found Delhi and Kerala were similarly closed, but a steam bath, a massage, and a swim were viable substitutes. Plus more food. Along their tour, they saw dancing, monkeys, elephants with parking places, and Barb got Delhi belly. She ended up in a hospital, where she was given sufficient pharmaceuticals to recover and begin eating again.
The book is described as the story of three women eating their way across India in search of adventure, elephants, temples, palaces, western toilets, monkeys, the perfect paratha…and find the kindness of Indian strangers. Perfect!
I highly recommend it.
Despite blizzards, canceled flights, de-icing delays, and an adjacent passenger who had made unfortunate food choices resulting in alarming gastrointestinal events, I arrived in India. The theory was that I would fly in from my home in Scotland, Janine would come from Washington DC, and Jaya would meet up with us at the airport. Nobody who knows any of us thought for a second that this could really occur.
Actual conversation at Passport Control, Mumbai:
Janine: “Well no, I don’t have my friend’s address or phone number. But she’s going to pick me up at the airport. She lives in Gujarat. That’s in India.”
Passport Control: [SO not impressed
I arrived before Janine. As far as I could tell, the Ahmedabad Airport was staffed by the entire Indian army, each soldier carrying a honking huge gun. I grabbed my suitcase and exited baggage control into India. Noise. Chaos. People, dogs, honking horns, more people. More soldiers. More guns. Dozens of sincere men who called me “Sister” and suggested they could take me anywhere on the planet I might want to go.
No Janine. No Jaya. And, apparently, no way to get back into the airport. After several failed attempts at international texts, I realized I could (at heart-stopping expense) send email to Jaya, who soon confirmed that she was on her way and that it was 3:00AM so I should go back inside. Except there were signs everywhere saying you couldn’t go back in.
“No problem.” Jaya explained that rules in India are more like guidelines. “People in India are very kind. Just ask.”
I’ve been living in the UK where rules are inviolate and graven in stone, so I didn’t believe a word of it. But the soldier at the door listened to my plea and waved his AK-Humongo to usher me back inside. There I found Janine attempting to send email or text. I reminded her neither option was likely for two technologically-challenged, jet-lagged, middle-aged ladies in a foreign country at 3:00AM.
In the end, we wandered over to the door and to our mutual amazement found Jaya waiting for us along with a hired driver and a van. Apparently lightning does strike again, because just like thirty-five years earlier, the three of us actually managed to meet up in another continent.
What could possibly go wrong from here?
About the author: From Goodreads
In halcyon days BC (before children), Barb Taub wrote a humor column for several Midwest