We had already had a full day before jumping in the taxi to go to a friend's home for dinner. The children's heads lolled and bounced as we made our way through the crush of bicycles, auto-rickshaws, and cars, like a surging tide lifting so much flotsam to a singular destination.
Darkness descended as we traveled, and the children sat up in delight as the headlights picked out the outlines of a family of pigs stepping down from the curb to trot across the busy road, traffic coming to a screeching halt behind them.
As we entered the neighborhood, and began searching for the desired street, a dust storm whipped up within moments. Flags and awnings stood straight out, and a young boy struggled with a metal sign the wind tried to rip from his hands. Illuminated in doorways, people rushed indoors, closing doors firmly behind them.
We turned left down a lane way and craned our heads for house numbers, quickly becoming invisible in the swirl. Trees from the park on our right layed their branches out long over us, thrashing as we passed under. In a side street to the left, a small child was sitting in the street, in the dark, and a mother came rushing to scoop the child up.
Visibility was dropping as we spied our friend standing on the corner, waving us to our destination. We held our hands over our eyes as we exited the cab. Instantly the sand was between my heel and the smooth bed of my sandal. A few running paces had us indoors, in a clean stairwell.
"Come up, come up." we could hear our hostess' voice ringing down to us from above. We entered the apartment with high ceilings and marble floors, with furniture in rich gold tones and inlayed with semi precious stones. The silk curtain were pulled closed and the doors locked against the storm which began to howl and throw itself against the building.
We sat in the relief of fans, run on a generator back up, as power had already been lost.
As we sipped cool beverages, thoughtfully replaced whenever the cup's bottom was in site, two men were busy in the kitchen creating a feast for our dinner. We started with chick pea salad, panear seared with sauteed vegetables, deep fried cheese balls, their crunchy exterior giving way to a creamy inside, and vegetable croquettes that also had a delightful crunch. I swirled each bite in the delicious sauce provided and had a delightful meal before the meal was even served.
Later, the main course was delivered to the table - vegetable Biriyani with cashews which was prepared with great restraint on the hot spices for our benefit. Only one of our children found it too spicy and ate a bowl of Raita instead. Raita, a fresh tomato and herb puree, and piles of mango completed the serving. I ate two portions (so thankful, as the Biriyani I had earlier in the week was so hot, I was unable to finish it) before discovering that there was also DESSERT, a custard with pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top, and chopped fruit mixed in.
As dinner progressed, the storm traded dust for pelting rain, thunder and lightening, before spending itself or travelling on. We talked about the move from Delhi to Houston to Delhi that this family had undertaken, and what they were happy to return to, as well as what they missed in Houston; the conversation that travelling families have around the world again and again. There are always losses and gains, all mixed up. The cooks had quietly cleaned the kitchen and slipped away. When I offered to help clear what was left on the table, our hostess refused, her maid would be coming in the morning.
Shortly before our cab arrived to take us home, the power returned, and the air conditioning hummed to life. The air was cooler, and fresh when we stepped outside. Water stood on the road as we started back towards our hotel. The children's heads lolled and bounced as they quickly fell asleep. Finch had to be carried in, sound asleep, as usual when we've had an evening outing.