My fingers, clutch a piece of dosa, with its aaloo filling just dipped into warm sambhar and cool coconut chutney and do manage to make it into my mouth, and mmmmm, mmmmm. MMMMMMMM. The taste of home. “It’s this stupid; this is the main reason that I, and I suspect many thousands of others have found ourselves here in ‘Little India’ “ I tell myself. It’s a wonder I got from the dosa stall to a table, five steps away without the dosa, chutney and sambhar flying off the plate I hold. As I savour the food in my mouth, taking ever so long to feel every flavour I possibly can before it’s all gone, I hear a young man on the opposite side of the small circular table we are standing around say, “I like it here because this feels like the ‘Mumbai locals’ ”. He catches my eye as I smile and he smiles back. I keep my elbow close to my body so not to knock down the morsel making it’s way from hand to mouth of his companion, next to me. Yes, we are home. Back home where, to place your foot down requires some planning, some foresight and sometimes more serious strategies as does the placement of your elbow. The elbow is a very useful tool when you need to get off a ‘Mumbai local’- otherwise just called a train.
Did this young man, smiling happily at me, a stranger, ever in his young life think he would miss a Mumbai local train? I seriously doubt it.
The transition from most major Indian cities to the Netherlands consists of many different factors to adjust to. Some of these, one can fathom easily. The cold. Not being surrounded by idli-dosa and the like. Less obvious ones are: stepping out of the airport or a train station or a car and taking in a breath of air that doesn’t smell of diesel, petrol or chemicals; getting used to words that contain the same alphabet as English but look different and are sometimes rather long. Like the board in Schipol airport that reads: ‘babyverzorgingsruimte’. Familiar and yet not.
And then, there are the less obvious factors like the silence. As the deep sleep of the jet lagged begins to wear off, and one thinks of rising and shining, the stillness is overwhelming. Where is that connection to the world through sound that never seems to cease in ‘Big India’? You rise finally, unable to listen to the only voice in your head, which is your own. You part the curtain gingerly and look out of the window. Where are the human beings? These empty streets, and the deafening stillness envelop you and you know you have arrived in the Netherlands.
But here in ‘Little India’ it is Diwali. The tent with its dazzling lights cannot contain the ever growing arrivals, the music, the chatter and clutter, the song and dance, the appetites and cheer, and so, we have spilled out onto the square, where of course, there is Indian street food to be enjoyed. And you don’t need to elbow anyone because there’s no getting off this train in a hurry. The food will keeping passing from hand to hand and hand to mouth, the songs will be sung, and little dance steps will cover every corner of ‘Big India’ on the stage. Here all the silence of the months gone by will be vanquished in one fell sweep, and sound will fill the air all day long. Here, where you can hardly put your foot down, there is room for little babies and young ones to entertain themselves in their own way. Here there is place for charities to tell of good deeds. And, not in the least here are the flavours from north, south, east and west of ‘Big India.’
Just like ‘Big India’, there is in the heart of ‘Little India’ time and place for everyone and and everything and all of it all together. And one doesn’t have to feel homesick any more.
‘Little India’ by another name is called Amstelveen.
Link to FB page: Diwali Amstelveen