Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Mom is cooking my favorite dishes, saag paneer (spinach and homemade cheese), tandoori chicken, aloo ki roti (potato stuffed flat bread) and chutneys (tamarind and mint). It is rather amusing that this is MY kitchen, yet she has taken control and turned me into her sous chef.

As she cooks I take fastidious notes in my recipe book and marvel that despite not measuring, Mom’s food tastes precisely consistent. She has standardized her skill into an art form. I certainly can’t say that about my cooking and I’m a pretty decent protégé.

“You know when I came from India, Dad told me to bring spices and lentils because there were no Indian groceries stores in Minneapolis,” Mom says. “So between your silk saris you packed paprika and masoor dal?” I ask. “Yes,” Mom replies. “What happened when you ran out?” I ask. “Oh, then several of us pooled our money, made a list and mailed our order to New York City. No other City had Indian grocery stores.” It is amazing how much things have changed.

Her story reminds me of a filmstrip we watched in fourth grade about Nagaland, a remote place in India inhabited by a primitive tribe who carried spears and wore animal skins. When the film finished, horrified, I raised my hand to reassure everyone that I was Indian and had been New Delhi several times and not to worry this depiction of India was inaccurate. Mrs. Knutson explained that I couldn’t possibly know everything about India. Very popular and blonde Jenny Nelson frowned at me, and Tommy Larson said, “Your dad has a bone through his nose? Gross.”

I remember feeling like someone had stolen my dignity. That night I went home and while Mom cooked dinner I asked about the Nagas. Mom dusted red and yellow spices over green beans and white potatoes and explained Mrs. Knutson was wrong, but I didn’t need to correct her. As my teacher she had a superior position in my life. Then I asked Mom to stop wearing saris to the mall. She kept cooking and said she wouldn’t let America embarrass us because we came from India. But I persisted and clarified technically I was American; being born in Minnesota guaranteed me that right. “No you’re Indian,” she finally said.

Sometimes I forget that I was not the only one being desi in a homogenous state. And I wonder how many times I hurt Mom’s feelings just like Mrs. Knutson, Jenny and Tommy did mine.

Saag Paneer

Chicken Tandoori

Mint Chutney


Anonymous said...

I have one of my hostel mates written book sold on amazon.
It is called as South Asian Immigration Stories: Indian Voices in America (by Paridhi Verma and Dinesh Verma). You may enjoy it.

101 Bad Desi Dates said...

Dear Anonymous ... thank you for the recommendation! I love to read other desi writers.

Samosas for One said...

I think about this too...especially now as I they are getting older.

101 Bad Desi Dates said...

Dear Samosas for One ... I dont ever feel "wronged" bc I was brown in Minnesota, I def am a better person for it. But sometimes I wish desis in India or my parents "got" the challenges I had, or admitted that while I had a good life, I had good challenges like sideburns that rivaled adult men and bus bullies. Then again sometimes I think I am just a brat. It is not I left New Delhi for Minnesota.

Amitabh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amitabh said...

My son says to me "You are Indian, I am American." Or, even better, "You are Hindi, I am English!".
And he's just six.

101 Bad Desi Dates said...

Dear Amitabh -

Ooooohhhh, your little man is so smart. It is amazing how they know and how socialization just happens.

My niece told her mother that she was brown or a brownie or something like that last year, 6 months back - something like that .... OY!

And when she goes to daycare she refers to my mother as "Grandma" but at home it is "Dadi, Dadi, Dadi ..." It is amazing that she knows to speak Grandma outside the home and Dadi in the home.

Let's see what lies before the next generation of American desis, the grandkids of the immigrants!

Desi Girl