I see them and can hardly resist: momos, veg balls in garlic sauce, boiled in water. One my preferred foods in India. I spend the weekend in Ooty, a hill town in the Nilgiri mountains at 2.240m.
Talking with the momo lady
The lady is preparing momos at a cooking stand when I pass by. Chicken momos, veg momos, spicy momos … How could I resist?
She looks very smart and her stand is very clean and pretty. She is a 40enne lady and she gives me a very comfortable feeling, a special thing that I do not know exactly how to describe. Heartwarming, maybe.
She gives me a smile, asks where I come from and how I feel here in the mountains. Aside, her husband is preparing popcorn. He puts the corn in small plastic bags. Then, he closes the bag above a candlelight. An easy and simple way to package and close the bags, isn’t it? It is rather cold here in the mountains. 16,18 degrees , I assume. People wear hats and scarfs, some woolen clothes…
Of course, I order a portion of momos. “It takes ten minutes,” she says. No problem.
The third woman
On the other side of the street there is a very old and extremely poor women walking slowly down the street. She looks awful with her old and dirty clothes, her small red bag, and long grey hairs. She crosses the street and joins us. I expect that she will ask for money. She must have seen me, the “tourist at a glance”. But she only stays with us and looks at the momos. Looks at me. I understand she must be hungry. But she says nothing. She is Just staying with us. Three women who have come together and meet here, from completely different worlds and just by chance, for just a few minutes of their lifetimes.
I wonder what kind of life she had. Her face is signed by thousand wrinkles. Her hands, her legs, the entire body is haggard. On her breastbone there is a white painting and two long necklaces are hanging around a very old cloth. Is there no one taking care on her? She notes that I am looking at her with curiosity, and asks me to touch her necklaces. Unfortunately, I do not understand what she tries to tell me. Are these necklaces her marriage “malas” of remote times? Some religious pieces? A tribal expression? And what will she think of me? Similar thoughts about ways of life?
The momo lady asks her something and she replies, with totally broken teeth. I am sure that these two ladies know each other. I assume, the 40 years old woman offers her a momo – probably she does this from time to time knowing about the bad status of that old woman. The momo lady is obviously not part of the rich people here in town, but she shows empathy, independent on who is in front of her. She cares about what is happening around her. I wish we had more people like her in the world.
Six, seven minutes have passed. In a few minutes I will have the delicious momos in front of me, delicious and hot. A woman from another world who can spend these few cents for food without thinking twice. Also ordering 50 portions won’t create me any problem. But this woman here can’t. Probably, she has had a hard live, a lot of work. Now she is too old. No one will take her for working. Retirement money? I don’t think that she gets it. I order a second portion. For her. The momo lady asks me twice whether these momos are for me, too. But then she understands and tells the old lady. She looks to me thoroughly, and then her eyes – slowly- start to brighten. She is all smiles.
We stand there without saying a word. As if the world has just stopped for a moment. We are eating together the momos. Even the momo lady takes one of her own momos. A lunch in three. From women to women.
7days in India – from woman to woman, part 1
Ooty is the district capital of the Nilgiris district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is located 80 km north of Coimbatore. It is a popular hill station located in the Nilgiri Hills. Originally occupied by the Todas, the area came under the rule of the East India Company at the end of the 18th century. Today, the town’s economy is based on tourism and agriculture, along with manufacture of medicines and photographic film.