As I leave every morning for work, they stand in the front courtyard, their eyes trailing my car till they can’t see me anymore. As I get home, I often see my mother strolling in my backyard tending to my plants and making sure that the birds have food to eat. She smiles and her eyes light up as she sees me. Their discussions on Indian politics bring back fond memories of growing up in a home that fostered curiosity, imagination and healthy discussions.
They spill food in the kitchen and the floor is oily and gummy. When my mom makes chappatis, the dry dough is all over my granite and stainless steel cook top. Their cooking makes the house stuffy and the furnace greasy and dirty. When they fill a cup of water, it spills onto the floor and then when they walk on the floor, it smears the floors. There are food finger prints all over the knobs. In spite of my telling them, they don’t use containers with lids to store food. There are several small steel bowls with small steel plates for lids in the refrigerator. But this list just doesn’t really matter, does it?
What is important is that they make an effort. They are retired professors from Delhi University with doctorates in political science, are financially independent, medically covered and can hire and afford any help in India. Here, in California, I see my parents making a lot of effort trying to assimilate into our lifestyle.
My father, my most favorite chef, is always ready to adapt to new ways. He takes to the kitchen, cooking vegetables that have me licking my fingers and goat meat that has me raving. Never mind, the extra oil, the salt and the spices because that is what makes it all yummy. He cooks, he cleans and loads the dishwasher. He uses a damp cloth to clean the granite and the cooktop. Never mind that it leaves stains behind that I need to wipe up. He beams proudly as I come back home every weekday evening and says, “Look how I cleaned up after your mom made the chapatis!” I smile at him and wink. As we sit to eat, you cannot miss those expectant eyes waiting to hear how he did. Most days, he gets compliments galore from us.
My mother, a hardcore homeopathic fan and an ardent admirer of yoga, is constantly worried that her daughter is overly stressed in this western world and needs to slow down and take deep breaths. She asks every friend of mine that she meets, if they know of a good homeopath in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas. I get abundant advice on how I should stay calm, drink water, milk with turmeric and flax seeds, food with less oil (preferably not cooked by my dad), lemon juice, four glasses of water early in the morning, basil or tulsi in my chai. She asks me to give her 10 minutes in a day so that she can teach me yoga, teach me meditation to help me sleep well, show me exercises that will help me stay healthy. But in 10 minutes we don’t even get started as she excitedly talks about how the yoga postures or asanas will help me. I remind her to make it quick.
She shows warmth, concern and sympathy and my oldest child knows exactly how to extract it. He hovers around her, complaining of how tired he is and how his knee hurts after a long game of tennis and how sad he is that he lost the game. Nani, as my children call their grandmother, comes around with the tiny magical white sugary pills to help him recover from his ailment, pains, sadness, tiredness, stomach upset and … She has stories for me in the evening of how she managed to get my younger, more American son, to eat Indian food and like it and even managed to get him to drink the haldi (turmeric) milk.
My father is notorious for being a sweet stealer. The children have funny stories of cookies going missing. They argue endlessly about how their grandfather stole from a place where they thought he couldn’t reach. My father vehemently denies and then confesses to having eaten a small portion.
On the day that they are leaving, I see my father bent over the sink, cleaning it vigorously, in the bathroom that he has been using for the last two months. I see his entirely grey head and drooping shoulders, and I cannot stop the tears from rolling down my eyes, wondering when I will be able to see them next.
In spite of having help in India, and being intellectually inclined, they came to my house and didn’t hesitate to cook, clean and give comfort to their daughter and her family and ensure that they did as everyone else does in this part of the world. I suspect that they like it here with their family. But India still pulls them back to their circle of friends, and their independence and mobility.
My father looks sideways at me and beams proudly, “See how well I cleaned the sink? Eh? Even you can’t do it that well!” and he smiles. I nod my head smiling and crying at the same time!
And then they left and I don’t know when I will see them again.
Veenu Puri-Vermani is an analytics professional from San Diego, CA who also loves to write.