Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Being Indian - in Newport News!

It was hard to shake it off. She had worked so hard to wring every last drop of her “Indian-ness” out of her, as if she were wringing out the water from a dripping wet piece of cloth. She thought she had it all out of her. And she took the fabric all the way up till her hands could go no higher and whipped it down, only to feel a fine spray, a mist left behind in the air, hovering where the cloth had been an instant ago.

She thought she was sufficiently a citizen of the world, not to be bothered by shopping at a desi store. She had taken to calling it “the Indian store”. It no longer was the desi store for her. She passed through aisles of dals, ready made bottled chutney carefully sealed and dated, to not let any aromas escape, lipton teas and leo coffees, kadais and belans and the ubiquitous south indian coffee filter, spices and vegetables, memories forming and collapsing in her head as if she were turning a kaleidoscope. She had gone through so many phases in life – from an Indian girl, who thought it was wrong to drink, smoke, and dance; lived in the ghetto as a grad student, worked insane hours, lived with the other people, borne the burnt of the desis, moved out alone into working life, hated the familiarity of the desis, the presumptions that she would fit into a mould, gone through a fitness spree and a drinking spree alternately, ventured into spirituality and philosophy, teetered on the edge of virginity, started to cook Italian and Thai, finally figured out that she was neutral enough to be chilled out even to Desis. And she had come to the corner shop once again, no longer dreading her reaction to other fellow indians…no longer trying to shy away from memories…

What different shopping styles she had seen in her life! Summer time blisters on the feet from running barefoot on hot asphalted roads behind the balloon seller and the vegetable vendor. The smell and sight of mangoes heaped up on the pavements. She would be able to distinguish between the dozen different varieties with her eyes closed, just based on pure smell. The pull of memory was so strong that she let it sweep over her for a moment, like remembering a particular kiss from an ex-boyfriend. Something that belonged to the past, but something that she no longer had to put away in the recesses of her mind as taboo, something she could let go and enjoy a momentary breeze of a memory in the middle of a hard day. As she walked through the shop, she looked at the frozen vegetables and a chill of disgust ran through her. She saw the fresh vegetables – tindoras and drumsticks, fresh methi and spinach, tiny baingans, and thin mean looking green chilies – the kinds that would draw an involuntary tear drop and a running nose out of the hardest looking guy, if he dared bite into it and she finally saw the mangoes. Luscious, big, firm, yellow thin skinned Banganapallis – Dad used to peel it off, going round and round the mango, having one long spiral peel at the end. How fascinating it used to be to just watch him do that!!! Juicy, pulpy, small fibrous ones that she could squeeze and drink the pulp out of after puncturing the skin. Thick skinned, green sour smelling raw mangoes that Paati used to pickle with lots of oil and mustard and spices. And maanga pachidi with a bit of jaggery, a bit of salt, a bit of pepper and a bit of neem for the bitterness and green mangoes for the sourness. She could feel it on her tongue, already. It was supposed to signify that life was made up of all different flavors… She picked up a case of each and walked to the counter, grinning at the thought of the next couple of days. Who was she trying to kid?!!! She was Indian – all the way!!!


Being Indian - in a distant country seems to be all those tiny memories that flash in and out at unexpected moments, bringing back in vivid detail, places and times that are far away. No - I do not long for the mangoes, not the monsoon rains, not the liquid heat over the months of May and June... I miss my family. Miss my friends. But, everybody has moved on with a life of their own. And I go about missing them... That is what being Indian in a distant place is about - the brief flashes of totally lucid, vivid "wanting to be there"...

2 comments:

kalpana said...

it's such a beautiful picture of what it is to be indian. i guess u can paint that only when ur away...

moonlit rainbows said...

Thanks!
It is only in living so far away that I have realized what I miss, and in knowing that - I have come to know what has defined me over the years!