Earlier this year, I spent a weekend in DC with a couple my family knows well, who have been like second parents to me while at C’ville. Over filter coffee (Tamil style) one of the mornings, I got to talking about their story of how they came here so many years ago, met and married each other and now had a full, happy life in this country. I wondered who had been their support system when they first moved here, at a time when Indians in America were concentrated in the Universities and the Valley and were not as ubiquitous as today; I had them, and over my three years in America, various other people, who have been my support system to help me settle down. I wondered who was there for them, whether they brought a year’s worth of tamarind from India for sambar and special idli rice and even their filter coffee powder!
Since my move to Florida, I had not cooked anything Indian, and had survived on fruits and pasta and ramen noodles… nothing wrong with it, but when I started craving curries and rotis I knew I had to fix it. At one of my fruit-buying trips at the local Publix, I spotted an Indian. I struck up conversation with him and asked him to give me directions to the Indian store. And as a freebie, he threw in directions to the Indian temple too! So this morning I drove up to the Indian store and within ten minutes I had a basket full of frozen rotis and daals and spices. I got to talking with the store owner and she offered to give me ideas on all the spices and stuff I would need to get my kitchen started. As I browsed through the aisles (there were just two), I savored the sound of all the people shopping there and the various languages they were conversing in.
I have always believed that as someone who cooks a lot Indian food at home, I wouldn’t want to go to an Indian restaurant on the weekends when I eat out. By that same principle, I’ve always tried to get to know non-desi folk at school/work because I rationalized that I left India to get to know people of the world. But today, as I perused the aisles of the store, I savored the little India around me, enjoyed speaking Hindi with the people there and felt comfort and at home for the first time at an Indian store.
I guess no matter how much we try to acclimatize ourselves to our new “home” land – America or Argentina or anywhere else – we never really stop being desi… You could suppress the desi-ness but it comes out in the least expected places and times… sometimes all it takes is the sight of bhindi (okra) and you can almost smell it frying in your kitchen in India. To my desh on its 64th year of Independence, I hope you know that your influence stays strong even so far away.