Tag Archives: legacy

My Grandmother’s Gold Bangles & Vegetable Pulao

A Lasting Legacy

During the pandemic my daughters and I have been spending a lot of time in the kitchen cooking up a storm. One day we set out to cook a family favorite dish, vegetable pulao. I tell them we’ll be making it from my grandmother’s recipe. 

“How come you don’t talk more about her?” my daughters ask. That began my journey to piece together the story of a remarkable woman. 

As with most things I began with my mom. 

“Tell me about patti (grandmother).” 

My mother says, “Amma could whip up the most delicious pulao and raita. The badi elaichi left a lingering taste.” 

It’s not easy to get my octogenarian mother to talk about her childhood years. “I was eleven when my mother died,” she says. 

“She must have been 40?” I ask. My mother nods silently. Losing a mother at such a young age must have been a crippling blow. On one of the few occasions she’s spoken of it, my mother rued, “…at least I have some memories of my mother but your aunt was just a baby.”

I learned that patti was married at 13 to a 20-year-old law student studying in Madras. My grandfather went on to become an accountant general in the British India government. This meant they moved every few years. My grandmother had to set up households in cities across north India such as Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Simla. Many of my grandfather’s colleagues were Englishmen and patti was expected to interact with their wives. 

How did a shy thirteen-year old girl from Thanjavur hold her own in an unfamiliar world? It wasn’t just a matter of stepping into a new environment but getting comfortable, and even being adept at playing hostess in social events that my grandfather’s job required them to host. This even while she had seven children of her own to raise. 

The family album shows patti as a doe-eyed woman with a gentle expression. Understandably my mother’s memories of her mom are somewhat fragmented. Yet several incidents from her mother’s life have stayed with her, such as her explaining “how to make murukkus in her broken English to the wives of my father’s colleagues.” 

My grandmother got comfortable enough to play tennis in her six-yards saree with these women, even while conforming to the conservative practices of her in-laws. 

“She would change into a nine yards sari in the train before disembarking in Chennai!” my mother chuckles.

It wasn’t just her recipes that got handed down. “Amma would shoo us children out of the living room when the announcement for the music program came on the radio,” says my mother. “She’d ask us to come back once the music began so that we could guess the name of the raga being played!”  My grandmother was a die-hard fan of Carnatic music, a love she passed on to her children and leading to my own career as a classical musician. 

Even as my mother recounts her memories, I can sense some of what’s unsaid – the challenges of being a woman raising multiple children, even while juggling conservative in-laws in a patriarchal and colonial society. So taking a break or falling ill was not an option. Which is why when she caught tuberculosis, it affected the entire family. Long periods of staying at a sanatorium ensued as she recuperated. Despite seeming improvement, patti never fully recovered. 

“Streptomycin became available a few months after her death,” my mother’s voice breaks. “It was too late for her.” 

I sense it’s her 11-year old self speaking. We are both silent. I reflect on a young girl’s journey from a southern city of India and the legacy she left behind for future generations of women. While we celebrate women across the world as role models, I wonder if we look hard enough in our own backyards for inspiration?

“Ma, what do I do now?” my daughter’s voice draws me to the present. “Give the rice and veggies one last swirl and let it cook covered.” 

As my daughter turns the pulao with a wooden ladle, I notice the thin gold bangles on her hand. It’s a gift from my mother.

‘Were they my grandmother’s?’ I wonder. Tracing the rim of those bangles, I find myself whispering, “This is like the armor of a warrior.”  

My patti’s name was Meenakshi.


Chitra Srikrishna is a Carnatic musician based in Boston
images: paintings by S. Elayaraja

 

A Legacy That Belongs to All of Us

For years, Asian-Americans donned a cultural Invisibility cloak before Western audiences. And although undiscovered, their stories have unfolded silently and beautifully from generation to generation. That’s why the five-part documentary series, Asian Americans, created by an all-Asian American team of filmmakers, plays such a critical role in chronicling the immigrant experience. 

Narrated by Daniel Dae Kim and Tamlyn Tomita, Asian Americans strings together the stories of the many struggles for freedom – from the Japanese incarcerations during World War II to anti-Asian immigration laws. The storytelling, accompanied by the power of the documentary’s visual component, delivers a poignant narrative about what it means to belong to a country unconditionally, in the face of both adversity and animosity. Asian Americans features interviews with some of our community’s most celebrated individuals, such as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen, Chinese-American journalist Helen Zia, academic expert Erika Lee,  and Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu. Their stories highlight the difficulty in navigating identity between two dichotomous cultures. 

The trailer for Asian Americans ends with the words, “and their legacy belongs to all of us!” As I reflect on my own experience as Indian-American, I realize how much I identify with these words. So many trailblazers have carved out a voice for our community — and PBS’s Asian Americans gives them the credit they rightfully deserve. 

While the documentary is impactful on its own, its content becomes more topical against the backdrop of a global pandemic. The current coronavirus outbreak marks an alarming rise in anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobic paranoia. According to a poll conducted in New York, residents have reported roughly 248 cases of racial prejudice since January. 1600 hundred attacks have been reported nationwide — a number which can only be an undercount, due to the shame and fear that contributes to such attacks. Divisive language surrounding this situation, such as calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” or “the Wuhan virus” turn Asian-Americans into a convenient scapegoat for unprecedented circumstances. Social media platforms document shocking tales of bigoted attacks against law-abiding Asian Americans, such as a video of two girls at Garden Grove’s Bolsda Grande High “screaming ‘coronavirus’ at Asian American students”. COVID-19’s impact on race relations is not making national headlines because of its novelty. Rather, it’s only chillingly familiar for the Asian American community.

Virtual Town Hall hosted by the Center for Asian American Media.

In a virtual Town Hall hosted by the Center for Asian American Media, producers and members of this documentary discussed what it means to be of Asian descent during an international crisis. Some of the panelists included Viet Thanh Nguyen, Amna Nawaz, Hari Kondabolu, and more. And in a critical segment of this Town Hall, the panelists pointed out how coronavirus fears play into America’s history of race-based discrimination. It was only one generation ago, for instance, that Chinese-American draftsman Vincent Chin was beaten to death by two white men in Wayne County, Detroit. While Chin’s assailants were originally charged with second-degree murder, their only punishment was $3,000 dollars and no jail time. “It reminded Asian-Americans that progress hadn’t really been made.” 

Today, every voice in the United States has the opportunity to change our country’s cycle of systematic abuse. Rather than using a national tragedy to fuel dangerous and divisive rhetoric, we have the chance to truly move forward. And Asian Americans represent that effort towards a liberated future for the next generation of immigrants. “As much as tragedy is a part of our heritage here, so is possibility.”

The documentary premieres Money and Tuesday, May 11 & 12, 2020 at 8pm on PBS. To watch the trailer, click here! 

To find out more about the Digital Town Hall, watch a recording of the panel here.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being a Youth Editor for India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.