Entry 5

       Saw Mother Teresa taking a crap on the beach this morning. Rusty-haired, her body teeming with lice, she reached under her rags to wipe herself, then looked at her hand in wonderment. That was before she noticed us. Incensed that we should have presumed to stare, she lost it; her yells sent us across the road and around the corner posthaste. My companions confirmed that she was insane–and no, they haven’t read Christopher Hitchens. This wasn’t an Angel of Calcutta sighting–this woman’s moniker derives from the Malayalam word theri (hence “Teresa”), a common noun for all terms of abuse–and her re-christening was entirely unironic, I’m told.

       Local legend attributes her lunacy to her fiancé’s death at sea; at any rate, she’s occupied that bit of beach for years, and is one of the area’s floating markers. I’d never seen her before, though: She is easily absorbed by the crowds of people and food carts, as am I. Street food here is something else, and the beach is clogged with vendors every evening. You can’t but succumb. Calicut’s population comprises Hindus, Muslims, and Christians in comparable numbers, and while this has meant that communal riots are literally a stone’s throw away at all times, it has also created a gourmand’s paradise. The food carts offer standard beach fare: spicy roasted peanuts in paper cones and buttery omelets on soft white bread. But you can get crispy-curly fried abalone here, richly floured and stuffed with a tangy mixture of onions and cilantro; and mussels off the shell, pepper-hot, sweet-sour; and sugary yellow plantain fritters dripping ghee; and flaky white fish, freshly caught, then crusted with chilies and salt and flash-fried. My favorite–slivers of green mango in brine–is an acquired taste, I’ll concede; its age indeterminate, it may also be the only item there that’s a guaranteed risk. I probably shouldn’t have tried it, I’m thinking, what with my newly acquired alimentary Brahminism and all. But I did, and got to meet the neighborhood homeopath as a result. Hunched over a worn desk and slapping at mosquitoes, this Dickensian dispenser of pills and powders has worked out of the same musty room, its yellow-washed walls lined with dusty bookshelves and portraits of stern-faced men, for the last 35 years. He isn’t from Kerala, but speaks its language, Malayalam, impeccably–so much so, that even his English is inflected with a Malayalam accent. “You must eat carrots,” he told me confidentially. “Two to three carrots a day are simmbbly perfect for the system. Very good for the scalp and eyes, too.” People in our building swear by this man, and I promised I’d crunch once I got back to Seattle. I left his office with several little packets and, committed to the health of my system, scalp, and eyes, will go back Saturday for more. “Come early,” he told me. “The queue starts forming even before 9.” No problem there: The muezzin of the mosque next door wakes me at 4 every morning by knocking loudly at the microphone before calling the faithful to prayer. I usually fall right back to sleep, but have come to expect the khadack-khadack sound, to wait for it even. The homeopath’s room is on the next street, jammed between the French Bakery and Hamid’s Ironing Shop. I’m sure I could make the queue by 9.