After their first children’s book on diversity, We Are Onewhich was published in 2017, San Francisco Bay area-based mother-son duo Pinky Mukhi and Param Patel are back with their new book on diversity and gratitude I Am Grateful. Pinky, who works as an I.T. professional, loves working with children, teaching them Gujarati, and engaging them with stories, arts, and crafts related to festivals celebrated by different cultures. Her curious nine-year-old son, Param, is interested in arts, computer games, music, reading, and sports.
A simple tale told through bright and colorful illustrations by Devika Oza, the book is a journey into the daily lives of children and what they feel grateful for. The story trails a day in the life of a child, examining all the things he has around him to be grateful for—his parents, grandparents, school, lessons, teachers, art, music, playtime, bath time, books, stars, trees, and flowers—in other words, the little things that we often take for granted.
The book was conceptualized when Param was six years old and is based on a conversation with him about what he feels thankful for. When Param was eight, he along with his mother, added further to the story by imagining what children in different nations may appreciate. They then decided to include in the story some of the countries Param had visited and the continents he had studied about.
Golden Gate Bridge illustration from ‘I am Grateful’
The book ends with these powerful lines, accompanied by pictures of children belonging to different cultures, with their palms folded in prayer:
“I am grateful for love.
I am grateful for friends.
I am grateful for Mother Nature.
I am grateful for sunshine and moonlight.
I am grateful for food.
I am grateful for home.
I am grateful for learning and stories.
I am grateful for toys.
I am grateful. I have everything I need!”
After a month of Thanksgiving and Diwali, the book which is sure to resonate with children between the ages of four and nine, serves as a much-needed reminder of optimism and gratitude, especially during these challenging Covid times.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’. You can access all her published work under different categories in various publications here: www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com
The history of Thanksgiving has become a hotly contested topic. Many believe the heartwarming story of European settlers and natives celebrating their successful harvest, immortalized in American myths for generations, never happened. Some Native American tribes like the United American Indians of New England see Thanksgiving as a day of mourning for the genocide of natives.
Hundreds of years later, by continuing to celebrate Thanksgiving by slaughtering turkeys when we don’t even know for sure if those birds were on the menu in the first Thanksgiving dinner, we are perpetuating a culture of violence and validating the bloodshed that has marred the history of Native Americans.
Thanksgiving turkeys — the 46 million of them that aren’t lucky enough to be pardoned by the President– are forced to live in cramped cages that are too small to even flap their wings, their toes and beaks are cut off without painkillers, and they are killed in the most inhumane manner imaginable as a PETA investigation reveals. This is unfortunate, but not surprising because there are not even minimum federal standards governing how turkeys live or die, as turkeys are exempt from the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
While we turn a blind eye to the abuse of animals in slaughterhouses, as a society we have been very vocal in condemning those accused of animal abuse outside the slaughterhouse.
Football player Michael Vick continues to be hated to this day for engaging in illegal dog fighting.
The reaction to these animal abuses is understandable and laudable, but how are those of us who condoned the abuse of our Thanksgiving turkeys any different?
There is no morally coherent difference between the dog who was kicked and the chicken, pig, cow or turkey that most people will eat today. How is it that Americans, so solicitous of the animals they keep as pets, are so indifferent toward the ones they cook for dinner?
Perhaps this is why stories about dog meat market in China and slaughtering dolphins in Japan lead to overwhelming outrage in the social media, mostly in the form of comments calling “those people” barbaric by those who have don’t bat an eyelid towards the inhumane treatment of animals culturally deemed worthy of consumption.
It is time for us to examine our fundamental views about animal ethics, to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, “are we really less barbaric than ‘those people’ who kill dolphins or eat dogs?”
Many omnivores vehemently defend their choice to eat meat by rhetorically asking why we should worry about animals when so many people are starving . Ironically, human starvation is just another reason to reconsider raising animals for food. Every year about 760 million tons of food is fed to farm animals. Of this enormous quantity, only a fraction of calories is consumed as meat, while about 40 million tons of food grains can end the most extreme cases of human starvation.
Vegetarianism is on the rise. A study profiled in a recent New York Times piece finds that 12% of Millennials have now embraced a vegetarian lifestyle, as compared to 4% Gen X’ers, and 1% of Baby Boomers.
We should embrace the anti-animal cruelty movement. Continuing to perpetuate the violence, abuse and bloodshed that marred our history 400 year ago seems unimaginative, medieval and frankly not in line with a progressive society we aspire to become. Let’s not force turkeys to live a short, cruel and thankless life and instead endeavor to create new traditions based on thoughtful reflection, reasoning and compassion.
Spending a minute to ask ourselves what the turkeys have to be thankful for on Thanksgiving is not too much to do for the sake of the bird you’ll be carving up for dinner.
Ashwin Murthyis a freelance writer and a Silicon Valley based software engineer.
In early September, I joined my husband as he went back to his village in Palakkad, Kerala, after a ten-year hiatus. He had grown up in Palakkad in a large joint family with his grandmother, mother, brother, and sisters along with several uncles, aunts, and cousins, with about twenty-five family members under one roof. His grandmother’s home looked exactly as it did over fifty years ago. The kitchen had seen a makeover, but if the walls could speak, they would tell stories of the people who lived there—sons, daughters, cousins, grandchildren, marriages, births and deaths, celebrations and feasts all held under the watchful eye of his grandmother, the benevolent family matriarch. Her integrity and strength were the foundation on which this home had been built and sustained.
The village consisted of some 100 plus row houses with clay tile roofs arrayed on the sides of a single road. The library was situated across the road from his ancestral home; the village pond was sure to fill up during the monsoons, and there were two temples at walking distance. My husband had spent many hours in that small library, reading all that he could lay hands on.
As we were walking to his aunt’s house, a man with a toothless, smiling face walked towards us. He looked like he had jumped out of the pages of R.K Narayan’s Malgudi Days. This tall thin man with thick glasses had a large man bun right on top of his conical head. His bare chest was disproportionate to his large tummy, and a white dhoti was tied around his small waist. “This is Ramu,” my husband said, a.k.a. “Kozhimuttai Ramu” as he was affectionately called by everyone in the village. “Kozhimuttai” literally translates into a hen’s egg. “Without him, I wouldn’t have passed my GRE exams and made it to America,” my husband reminiscences. “He was the head of the library, and he had the power to either let me in or keep me out—from Western novels to Wilbur Smith, from Perry Masons and Robert Ludlums to stacks of Reader’s Digests, encyclopedias and more, it was he who gave me the access.” Thank You Mr. Ramu for helping this man dream big, even as he grew up in this small village, I thought to myself.
Then there was Nallepilly Ayappan, who lived an hour away. He was a homeopathic doctor who treated children with issues from malnutrition to manic depression. He took time to share his extensive library of books and was full of interesting insights that made an impact on a teenager, eager for a sense of direction. His home had served as a quiet getaway. As I stood in Ayyappan’s backyard looking at the papaya and jackfruit trees, hibiscus, and pumpkin trails, he told me, “write about the panikoorka plants, they have so much healing power.”
So, this Thanksgiving, who are the Ramus and Ayyappans that have impacted your life in myriad ways? Who would you want to call or write and say two special words—Yours Thankfully!
As you think about who you plan to reach out to, here are some interesting recipes with papayas, jackfruit, and pumpkin for your Thanksgiving meal.
Ripe Papaya, Avocado, Cherry
Tomato Salad Ingredients 1 medium ripe papaya seeded and cubed 1 avocado peeled, seeded and cubed 10 yellow cherry tomatoes halved 1 Persian cucumber sliced 1 green chill minced
Dressing 1 teaspoon ginger 1 lime juice 1 teaspoon chaat masala powder Salt and black pepper to taste
Whisk the ingredients in the dressing together and reserve it in a small bowl. Place the papaya cubes, tomatoes, avocado, chili, and cucumber in a large serving bowl and refrigerate it. Right before serving, mix in the dressing, and adjust the seasonings to taste.
Jackfruit and Pumpkin Chili
This is an interesting recipe that requires a good quality root beer. This is a recipe that meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans can enjoy.
Ingredients 1 can green jackfruit, drained, washed and chopped ½ can pumpkin puree 1 tablespoon oil 1 clove 1 cinnamon stick 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon cumin seeds 1 large red onion minced 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste 3 tomatoes chopped fine 2 green chilies minced ½ teaspoon turmeric 1 teaspoon garam masala powder 1 teaspoon coriander powder ½ teaspoon cayenne Salt to taste 1 cup root beer ¼ cup water
Garnish: Cilantro chopped and sour cream (optional for vegans)
Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the clove, cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, and bay leaf. Add ginger-garlic paste and minced onion and sauté till brown. Then add the tomatoes, green chili, turmeric, garam masala powder, coriander powder, and salt to taste. Add the jackfruit and cook for 2-3 minutes with a little water. Once the jackfruit is soft and cooked, add the root beer and pumpkin puree and let it stew for another 10 minutes on low heat. Check and adjust seasonings. Serve hot with chopped cilantro and a dollop of sour cream.
Spicy Papaya, Pineapple Sangria
This is a great drink for the early afternoon before the Thanksgiving meal. The serrano can make it too spicy if you leave it for too long. If you can find edible dry hibiscus flower you can cook it in simple syrup and add it to the sangria. It gives it a sweet flower taste.
Ingredients ½ cup sugar ¼ cup water 1 bottle white wine (like Riesling) 1 ripe papaya chopped 1 cup ripe pineapple chopped 1 serrano chili slit Basil leaves for garnish
Heat the sugar and water and make it into a simple syrup. Place the chopped papaya and pineapple in a large serving pitcher. Add the white wine and simple syrup and mix. Add the serrano chili and refrigerate for a few hours. Remove the serrano in an hour if you don’t want it spicy. It gets spicier as you steep it longer. Serve cold with ice cubes and basil leaves.
Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team-building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay Area.
This article was first published in November 2017.
Just because the flames have been smothered for years
Does not mean we don’t feel the soot in our tears
A man on a pedestal flaunts his crown
Reduces an empire to a ghost town.
We apparently love him — it’s been reported
A toast to that, before we get deported
Close the curtains, God, what a racket
That officer’s gun is not in his jacket.
Just another man screaming for his life
Grab the remote, mute his strife
So what if that burger is dipped in car grease?
Can’t someone let us just eat in peace?
When it’ll be us, just like everyone said,
Someone else shall pass the butter, hand the bread
I know that it’s difficult, that this will be hard
When the cranberries are sour and the turkey is charred
But to untangle the noose from this country of rope
Change the menu, bring out the hope
Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin and the Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. When she’s not doodling or writing poetry, she is most likely untangling her earphones or looking for something that happens to be — much like herself — lost.
Fall is my most favorite season of the year. I love seeing the leaves of trees change colors, and the pleasantly mild temperatures encourage me to take long walks. As we celebrate Thanksgiving at the end of November, we reflect on our blessings in life. This year, it has become all the more important to be grateful for all that we have, with the world being caught in the grip of an invisible monster that is shaking the world!
Every day, I wake up with a thought that is not at all comforting. A question arises as to how long the cloud of uncertainty will be hovering over us. It was mid-March when I first wrotean article on the COVID-19 situation, and 8 months later, we are still battling it.
In the wake of this crisis, the issue ofmental health is one of grave concern. What has emerged as a very crucial requirement for all of us is the need to be happy. I don’t know if it’s the few strands of gray that have made me older and wiser, but the pandemic has made me look at life from a different perspective. I’m pleasantly surprised that I have emerged as a more optimistic person than I was before.
Learning is a continuous process, and at times, certain events or circumstances reinforce what we have learned in the past with even greater strength. If I were asked what are the values the world needs to learn the most from the pandemic, I have an instant answer. Gratitude, positivity, and acceptance are the values we need to embrace. I have definitely made them my mantras.
We pass the test of humanity when we conduct ourselves with grace and dignity during turbulent times. For a change, let’s divert our minds from the negatives and focus on the brighter side of what life has to offer. This is my personal viewpoint, yet I am confident that there will be many who will identify with me.
The pandemic has definitely turned our lives topsy-turvy, but we could be in a much worse situation. I came across a beautiful piece“Be Happy You Weren’t Born in 1900” which asks the reader to imagine a hypothetical scenario of being born in 1900 and living through a spate of unfortunate historical events. The story starts with the beginning of World War I on one’s 14th birthday and ends with the conclusion of the Vietnam War upon turning 75. The examples of the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cuban missile crisis are also put in that timeline. Truly, would it have been easy for someone to live through tragedies that happened so close on the heels of one another?
Although it is the human tendency to complain, we need to take into account all that we have at this moment. If there’s a roof over our heads and food at the dining table, we need to consider ourselves blessed. One should be happy if there’s a monthly check coming home rather than evaluating how satisfying or not his or her job is. If we are together with our family members, we need to appreciate those moments.
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” goes the proverb. It is certainly possible that we can beat a lot of the current COVID-related stress with a positive attitude. What can be a more opportune time to unravel and discover what we are capable of doing in order to sail through this storm with ease? And along with discovering our creative sides, we need to add that special dose of humor to make our days even sunnier!
Writing has always been my passion, and I have utilized this period to the fullest in order to give vent to my creative side. I have written more than I ever did because I have been spending a lot of time at home. My daily schedule has been a disciplined one, with daily yoga and pranayama being added to the routine.
So many people are discovering their hidden potential! It will perhaps not be an exaggeration to say that the world is buzzing with new singers, chefs, poets, artists, and other talented individuals during the corona crisis! On my family front itself, it is so heartwarming to see that my 24-year-old boy and my nieces have turned into accomplished chefs during this period. So isn’t it time for me and my sister-in-law to rejoice that our kids are ready to take over the kitchen and give mommy a break? One of my nieces has also rediscovered her childhood love for painting and has come up with brilliant pieces of art.
All human beings under the wide sky need to be treated as equals. As much as we know that, we tend to forget. As COVID-19 is holding the world in its frightening grip, the whole of humanity is on the same footing. The invisible monster has not made any distinction with respect to gender, status, race, religion, or sexuality. If this is not the time to practice kindness and acceptance, I don’t know when it’ll ever be.
Every small action counts. If we can spread some happiness by giving others a listening ear to their problems or perform some act of kindness, let’s do so. We all need to shed labels, cast aside prejudices of all types, and accept our fellow beings for who or what they are.
Adversity does not last forever. There will always be light at the end of the tunnel. All that we need at this moment is patience and composure. The mosaic of our lives is made up of all those small pieces that contribute towards making it a meaningful whole. So let us live in the moment and raise a toast to the tiniest of things that bring us happiness and make us smile, for the rainbow after the storm will definitely emerge!
Here’s to wishing all a safe and happy Thanksgiving! Be thankful and stay blessed!
Rashmi Bora Das is settled in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA. She has written for various platforms including Women’s Web to which she regularly contributes.
Legends of Quintessence – a column that interacts with Science Fiction in a South Asian context.
On Sunday, November 22nd, India Currents Sci-Fi writer, Rachna Dayal hosted a live interview with Seema Vaidyanathan (@addictedtospice) on Instagram as part of the Sci-Fi Column: Legends of Quintessence.
Seema is a home cook, foodie, philomath, home gardener, idea queen, and busy mother. Trained from a very young age by her mother Girija, an expert traditional Indian home cook, Seema is widely influenced by the different regional cuisines of India, through her upbringing and travels across India and abroad.
She loves to share the hidden delicacies of simple, traditional South Indian cuisine of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka states. She has a special love for the coastal cuisines of India. She enjoys experimenting with food and is passionate about using seasonal produce in her everyday cooking. Her motto is to keep it simple & fast yet delicious & nutritious.
We threw a challenge at Seema to come up with a recipe to feed aliens. Seema decided to create a salad that would provide a multisensorial experience to the aliens by combining sweet, sour, bitter flavors, and soft and crunchy textures.
The salad was a mix of arugula, pear, and burrata cheese with pomegranate molasses and honey dressing. This salad has some special seasonal toppings of roasted spiced honeynut squash, spicy candied pecans for some crunch, and fresh pomegranate seeds.
2- 3 tbsp. – extra virgin coconut oil (may be replaced with sunflower, peanut or canola oil)
few fresh curry leaves (may skip if not available)
Kosher/sea salt (To taste)
1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
Utensils: Wok or a wide shallow pan, long spatula to stir, and a lid for the wok/pan. Begin preparation by tempering hot oil (technical word in hindi- “Tadka” or in Tamil “Thalippu”)
Peel and Chop butternut/honeynut squash into ½ inch cubes
Warm the wok/pan on medium heat, add 2 tbsp. oil to this, let the oil warm up slowly on medium heat
Add mustard seeds, let sputter
Add cumin seeds and wait 20 secs to be toasted
Add curry leaves (bruise the leaves or tear in half before adding)
Add turmeric and in 30 secs add asafetida, wait 30 secs to a min
Add cayenne pepper, sauté for a minute, (notice the fragrance)
Add chopped squash, add salt, mix well and cover to cook for 5- 10 mins (folding occasionally to turn up the cooked pieces at bottom of wok/pan)
When close to being done, add some sugar (depending on how sweet you like this to be)
Continue to cook on medium-high with the lid opened
Check for doneness and seasoning, adjust accordingly.
Keep squash just tender, take care not to overcook- affects the texture.
Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.
Holidays at Filoli is the perfect season to make special memories with loved ones and friends. The historic House and Garden will be glittering and glowing with festive cheer every day and night of the week through January 3. Filoli is one of a kind. With its 16-acres of historic garden the unique landscape provides the perfect setting to connect with loved ones and appreciate beauty.
For fun festivities join us on Mondays for Holiday Themed Nights! From Pajama Party to Solstice Night, we’re making Mondays merry and bright with a selection of jolly dress-up prompts. Match the theme and get a special gift. On select Saturdays in December our ever-popular Santa Saturdays are back with a twist! Santa will be located outdoors on our beautiful Woodland Garden Court. You and yours are invited to take a socially distanced selfie with Santa himself.
To get you in the spirit we’re hosting a Holiday Bar on the Woodland Garden Court throughout the Holiday season, featuring a selection of wine, beer, warm libations, and mixed cocktails. Cozy up to a firepit and enjoy a beverage of your choice. Festive food and treats are available at the Quail’s Nest Cafe by the Town Kitchen. Highlights from the menu include peppermint hot chocolate and tasty seasonal coffee drinks in addition to holiday cookies and confections.
The Clock Tower Shop is the destination for carefully curated holiday gifts and decor. Our outdoor Courtyard will be filled with holiday greens, specialty and dwarf conifers, garden sculptures and ceramics as well as unique varieties of camellias, daphne and azaleas. And don’t forget to look for our favorite tulip and daffodil bulbs! In the Shop themes of Mrs. Claus’ Bakeshop, Elves in the Toyshop, and Nature Wonderland come to life with beautiful displays featuring blown glass ornaments, tea towels, baking dishes, artisanal soaps, stuffed animals and more.
We’re open every day and every night of the week for you to enjoy the wonder of Holidays at Filoli to your heart’s content! Purchase your tickets online for Daytime or Evening Admission today, we’re open 7 days a week from 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM. Advanced registration is required. Each year we look ahead with great hope about the joy this season will bring. We can’t wait to see you!
It’s possible, with art, to create something so real it almost becomes difficult to find meaning in it. The Humans, Stephen Karam’s fascinatingly mundane Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama, exists very firmly in that uncomfortable zone. Without hard scene transitions, music, or anything to bring you out of the story, the play provides a slice of life narrative that is almost excessive in its realism.
Taking place over the course of a Thanksgiving dinner, the trials and tribulations of the Blake family are slowly unraveled through a long series of freewheeling conversations (and frequently, arguments). By the objective standards of capitalism, each of them has failed in some foundational aspect of their lives. It pushes an uncomfortable interpretation of the American Dream, that having a family that loves you and believing in yourself is not enough. That, at the end of the day, financial success or failure is in your hands, and if you don’t have it, you do not deserve to be happy.
I can deeply relate to the series of awkward encounters as they play out, that sublime experience of socializing with people you love but don’t really know. This last weekend, I learned my cousin was planning on interning with a government anti-drug organization and was initially very surprised. Upon reflection, though, I realized there was no reason to be surprised my lack of knowledge about his decisions. I could tell you what sports he played in college, his favorite desserts and the name of his first girlfriend. But his values? His biases? His failures? Of these, I could tell you nothing. The play juxtaposes this clash of a family who don’t mesh in humor or personality, with brutal moments of honesty. Beyond that, the characters are fundamentally incapable of being honest with either themselves or each other.
They express a deep unhappiness at the state of the world without identifying any particular source of this dissatisfaction. Indeed, that is the one criticism I can honestly level at this performance. The Humans is such an earnest and succinct play, that it’s difficult to know what, if anything, one should take away from it. Day to day life, after all, does not come comfortably bundled with inherent meaning. The Blakes struggle with economic uncertainty, trust, love and conflict like any family, and like reality I too struggled to know why it mattered.
As a technical achievement, however, the San Jose Stage Company’s performance of The Humans is an absolute triumph, and a wonderfully authentic examination of the myriad ways the American Dream can fail.
Graham Smith is a lifelong writer of prose and lover of theater. He lives in San Jose, CA. mostly selling wood veneer, spoiling his parents dog, and purchasing very excellent books he won’t read.
Saturday, November 2nd: Skandha sasthi soora samharam. Evening at 4.00 PM skandha sashti kavadi festival special pooja abhishekam, continued with Sri Venkateswara abhishekam, Continued with Sri Vishnu sahasra nama chanting, aarati and manthra pushpa.
Sunday, November 3rd: Day light savings time ends.
Saturday, November 9th: Evening at 4.00 PM, Sri Venkateswara abhisheka, continued with Sri Vishnu sahasra nama chanting, Sani trayodasi, Sani pradosham, Shiva Sri Rudra abhisheka, aarati and manthra pushpa.
Tuesday, November 12th: Evening at 5.00 PM, Aipasi pournami, Sri Shiva maha anna abhishekam, arati and manthra pushpa.
Evening at 6.00 PM, Pournami vratha, Sri Sathya Narayana swamy pooja, aarati and manthra pushpa. All are welcome to participate with family.
Wednesday, November 13th: Kritika vratha. Evening at 6.30 PM, Sri Valli Deva Sena sametha, Sri Subramanya abhisheka, aarati and manthra pushpa.
Friday, November 15th: Evening at 4.00 PM, Sri Bhuwanewari / Sri Lalitha Devi abhisheka, continued with Sri Lalitha sahasra nama chanting.
Evening at 5.00 PM, Sri Sankata Hara chathurthi, Sri Lakshmi Ganapathi homa / Sri Lakshmi Ganapathi abhisheka, aarati and manthra pushpa.
Sunday, November 17th: Evening at 6.30 PM, Sri Ayyappa mandala pooja begins. Special pooja, aarati and manthra pushpa (daily Ayyappa mandala pooja starting: November 17th 2019, Sunday to January 15th 2020, Wednesday, when mandala pooja ends).
Tuesday, November 19th: Evening at 6.30 PM, Sri Kala Bhairava asthami special pooja, aarati and manthra pushpa.
Sunday, November 24th: Evening at 4.00 PM, Pradosham, Shiva Sri Rudra abhisheka, Sri Lakshmi Ganapathi abhisheka, Sri Valli Deva Sena sametha, Sri Subramanya abhisheka, aarati and manthra pushpa.
Thursday, November 28th: Thanksgiving Day weekend timings.
Friday, November 29th: Day after Thanksgiving Day weekend timings.
Monday, December 2nd: Sukla Sashti. Evening at 8.30 PM, Sri Valli Deva Sena sametha, Sri Subramanya sahasra nama archana, aarati and mathra pushpa.
I once watched a movie which got me thinking about the traditions that I hold dear. I saw Kaadhal, a brilliant Tamil movie, that tackled inter-caste Indian marriages. The story went like this: Rich girl meets poor boy and falls in love. Poor boy resists because he understands the chasm that separates them in terms of class and caste. Rich girl persists, convinces him of a future together and they elope to get married. Rich family finds the young couple in the city and they use deception and kind words to bring the couple back. Soon, they use the full might of their riches to cause serious injuries to the boy and then force the girl to marry another. This story line was not fictional; it was based on a true story. That shook me to the core.
In the movie, the “us” versus “them” theme was in display. Rich versus poor, high-caste versus low-caste, divisiveness between human beings was at its worst.Even though it was a hackneyed theme, this movie was different. There was an undercurrent that asked: what are the identities that you hold dear, and how do you promote them? Are there some identities that should merge?
The sub-text in the movie got me thinking—do I hold an “us” versus “them” set of attitudes? And, the answer came to me almost immediately—in the way I cooked! For every festival, I took great pride in cooking exactly what I had watched my grandmother and mother do. I did not even change the kind of vegetable that I cooked—it had to be raw banana or yellow pumpkin. The list of what “I” did and what “others” did was long. And I treasured the fact that the meal that my children ate was exactly what I had been fed as a child. But in holding these rigid attitudes, I wondered whether I was missing out on learning new ways of thinking; equally valid ways of cooking and celebrating that I ignored because, in my mind, there was only one way to celebrate.
I started to question something that I had always held as sacrosanct. Given the sheer variety of Indian and American cherished food traditions, there was no dearth of recipes to try. I decided to try Marathi, Bengali and Gujarati recipes for festivals, eschewing the tried and tested Tamilian dishes that I was accustomed to.
When I hosted Thanksgiving, I decided to leave out Indian foods altogether. I couldn’t rely on throwing in ingredients with practiced ease. Recipes were consulted and new ingredients found their way into my pantry shelves. The celebrations were just as meaningful. In fact, the festivals that year took on new meaning for me because of the sense of inclusivess I felt.
In a very small way, I moved outside the confines of what I held tightly wrapped around my sense of self—my family, my food tradition and in essence, what was comfortable. It is comfortable to invite friends and family members to festival celebrations. There is a sense of camraderie that is precious and familiar. You don’t have to explain yourself, what you have cooked or what you are wearing.
That sense of familiarity will disappear if you were to try different recipes, while inviting a neighbor from a different culture into your home. Now, more effort will be needed. But isn’t that effort worth moving out of our “tribal” mentality?
Breaking bread around the table is the best way to bring cultures together from time immemorial. Along with the food, will come the flow of easy conversation—not the formal, transactional conversations held in the workplace. The kinds of conversations that build a sense of shared understanding.
As this festival season starts with Diwali, Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner, I hope that you will build memories where the unfamiliar becomes familiar and you build human friendships.
You will then receive more than you give. In boxing ourselves into just what is familiar or what comes easily, we lose out on what is truly offered—endless possiblities in life and the chance to make and remake traditions.