Have you ever experienced a smell, a taste, a sound and with your eyes closed imagined yourself back in that familiar place? Recently my family and I walked into the Bollywood Theater, an Indian restaurant in Portland, Oregon in the US. The line was long (which is usually a good sign!) but the smells that enveloped us drew us in. And the wait was so worth it! For the next ninety minutes we experienced the joys of the best of cuisine from the Indian subcontinent. At one point, I was eating a tasty bhel puri, closed my eyes and thought I was in the middle of the Indian state of Maharashtra!
I am not a “foodie” and this is not a food blog. This endorsement of a restaurant in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States will probably be one of the only times you will ever see something of this nature on the blog. But if you are anywhere near Portland please do go to Bollywood Theater! (I am not getting paid to write this). Not only the food drew us in, but the whole context and environment. As we entered, we saw walls covered with all kinds of cinema posters and memorabilia from Mumbai. (see photo above). On the wall facing the entrance door was playing a black and white silent movie from India. After our meal, my wife, two daughters and I all thought this was the most authentic Indian food at a restaurant we had ever had outside of India.
Now we are back in India and will be here the next few months. There is authentic food all around us, along with all the sights, sounds and smells that makes India what it is and draws us so deeply into her life and reality. Context, context, context. What was it about that restaurant in Portland that could so evoke a reality beyond its own context, and carry you far beyond to another? It was not only the food. Or the movie posters all around us. Or the old silent movie playing on a screen near our table.
It was all of it. Conceived in the imagination of the owner and brilliantly enfolding all who came in through the doors. How do we create a context that causes people to feel so at home and safe that they can lose themselves, and their fears and anxieties. Music can do it. Movies can do it. Books can do it. (and yes, smelling them as well-see my post on books from December). One of the greatest joys of life is that we are not bound to our context, there are moments when we can transcend it and experience great joy, even ecstasy. Yes, at times that can be escape. But how sad if we never take the risk!
I am back in India now, a land and people that I deeply love. Bollywood Theater seems so far away. I am in the authentic context now. Or was I then as well? All I know is that each and every day there are opportunities to go beyond my present reality and experience, even for a moment, what C.S.Lewis would describe as a possible moment of transcendence. A moment of eternal beauty. A moment of eternal grace. I don’t want to miss that moment today.