I'm around 17 or 18, at someone's house for dinner. Rice is served. I ask for a fork.
Mrs Host: "Puttar ék minute"
Little Miss Host: "Mummy saadé kol kaanté nahin."
Mrs Host: "Béta chamché vali daraaz vich dékh, hoéga zaroor."
A silence descends on the group and I can feel dozens of pairs of eyes staring at me. No-one can see it, but underneath my turban, my ears are red. An agonizing 60 seconds later Little Miss Host calls out from the kitchen, "Mummy! Nahin itthé!"
Mrs Host gets up in a huff and ambles into the kitchen. By now everyone has stopped eating. Minutes later she returns with a shiny fork in her hand, "Puttar éh leh".
Suddenly Little Miss Host wants a fork too. “Mainu vi kaanta chahideh!” And of course her little brother wants one too. They both rush off to the kitchen to get one and come back fighting over who should get the one with the yellow handle and who should get the one with ‘Thai – Smooth as silk’ written on it. One of them ends up crying and the other gets a slap from Mrs Host. A baby in someone’s lap gets startled, starts bawling and knocks down a glass of water. The baby’s milk bottle disappears under the dining table and two adults crawl underneath to retrieve it. What have I done?!
I just want the earth to open up and swallow me.
It doesn't and soon enough order is restored, the group resume their breathing, tensed shoulders slump and the eating begins. Mr Host, who is sitting next to me says sympathetically, "Beta, saanoo logan nu kaantéyan di aadat nahin."
I offer a weak defense saying that I'd grown up in a boarding school "jithé saanoo mar-mar ké chhuri-kanté naal khana sikhaya." I can see that none of this washes with the crowd. Every single pair of eyes is still glancing up at me after every other spoonful. I know what they're thinking:
"Vadda aya chhuri-kaanté vala".