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Little India This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

By , State College, PA
I could sense the Patels were in their kitchen, the smells of spices floating up to greet my nostrils from beneath the red door. A bright smile illuminating her face, Sneha met me on the front step and hopped back inside, me following close behind. Peering around her brightly painted foyer, I saw golden trinkets lining the shelves. A television hummed softly from her Aaji’s bedroom.

We slipped into the little kitchen, marveling over the passage of our exams. Looking up from the stove, Sneha’s mother beamed and warmly chatted with us in her gentle accent, her dark hair braided down to her hips. Dosas sizzled on the stove and peanut chutney bubbled in its pot. Sneha’s mother then reminded her daughter to show me the display in the basement. Dutifully, we traipsed down stairs, giggling about her mother’s inconspicuous method of removing us from her workspace.

A little shrine commemorating a Hindu holiday had been set up for the women of the community to admire, Sneha told me, fumbling for the light switch. Moments later, tiny fairy lights lined a pyramid of statues ranging from cow to female figurine. Sneha told me the story of the pieces, each a pocket of memories from her childhood adventures and family travels.

Interrupted by the scraping of chairs on the wooden floor above, we scrambled upstairs to begin eating. I offered to set the table, and Sneha suggested I get plates only. Confused, I set six on the table. Reading my mind, her father turned to me from his paper and told me in India, most food is eaten with the hands.

It was strange, diving into delicate, vibrantly colored cuisine without aid of a fork, but after the second helping of dosa, I saw why so many cultures used their fingers to sweep up their food--it was precise and provided an unusual connection with the action of eating.

For an hour, we joked, shared stories of trips away from home, and complimented the scrumptious meal. Stuffed, we all retired to the living room, settling in for a few minutes of the nightly news before we fell asleep from the weight of a good meal and good company.

I felt sorry for the neighbors unable to partake in the festivities of a Saturday night at the Patels, an evening filled with food and laughter unmatched by their surrounding homes. It was a lazy weekend night in Central Pennsylvania, and here I was in bustling, beaming Southern India.

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