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Photo by Caleb Brooks

The Snack Scale

When you live in a homestay family as outgoing as mine, you quickly become acquainted with the customs of visiting and hosting friends, relatives, neighbors, and just about anyone else whose gate you can open.  This was especially true on Diwali. Beginning three days before Diwali and ending three days after, my family and I visited three to four homes per night. Around 7pm my homestay mother would ask “Ready to go?”, and thus would begin the adventure of our evening.  As I left the house each night with my homestay mom and anyone else who decided to tag along, I truly had no idea how long we would be out, how many families we would visit, where we would go, or when we’d be eating dinner. I just went.

I would meet aunts and uncles, cousins and brothers, friends and neighbors and attempt to remember the relation of each person I met.  I sat in numerous living rooms and tried an unknown amount of snacks. Despite hardly ever understanding the sentences tossed back and forth, I enjoyed sitting and attempting to decipher the conversation, picking out small words I could recognize, or just listening.  However, I noticed that after a few hours my attention would begin to waiver. As soon as I began analyzing the patterns of sarees and how well they matched the earrings of the wearer, I knew that any hope of my focus returning to the conversation was gone. And thus the Snack Scale was born.

At each house we were offered a platter with some configuration of namkeen and sweets, with the occasional wild-card of nuts.  My self-implemented Diwali rule was to try any new sweets or snacks I was offered, as I don’t know when I’ll be able to celebrate Diwali in India again.  Due to this “rule”, I gradually became a professional snack sampler. Whether a result of a wandering mind or a want to legitimize my profession, I developed the Snack Scale.  Consisting of three categories (variety, uniqueness, and taste), I would mentally rank the snacks offered at each house. “How many types of namkeen are there? I have never seen this sweet before.  Where can I get this barfi? Have I been looking at the snacks for too long?” were my thoughts as I chomped on a kaju katli (a staple Diwali sweet in every house). I soon found that the longer I stared at the snacks, assessing the display and assigning points to each one, I would be offered more.  By the fourth house of each night, that was dangerous. As a response, I developed a snack assessment tactic, comprised of sporadic yet intentional glances, so as to continue my growing list of snack rankings with my health still intact.

While the Snack Scale lives on, the end of Diwali season has brought a lull in the business of snack sampling and visiting families.  However, the impartial Snack Scale has concluded that my homestay family has the best snacks, and not just because we have soan papdi (totally not my favorite sweet or anything).