Chutney for Children

The day after Code Red, I co-presented with my daughter on the subject of “India.” I had hoped for one hour twice weekly until the end of the school year to address the country fully and properly. I know about .00018 percent of the total story behind India, and hours would be needed to extract all that info for the younger generation. The teacher gave me 45 minutes.

I prepped a special batch of chutney for the children, using 1.5 chilies instead of the usual 3-4. I brought some chips. I brought “Tinkle,” which my kids devoured when they were abroad. Many copies came home in their carry-on.

The presentation began immediately after lunch, so one can imagine things were a little crazy. I quickly realized my Powerpoint “India: A small report on a giant culture,” would have to be shelved in favor of a Q&A-style format. NO, I would not be comparing literacy rates of boys and girls in India and reminding my daughter’s class how lucky they were to be receiving a free, high-quality public education that is mandatory and does not discriminate.

Despite a major improvement in literacy rates in India over the past decade, the number of children who are not in school remains high.  Gender disparities in education persist with far more girls than boys failing to complete primary school.

The national literacy rate of girls over seven years is 54% against 75% for boys.  In the Northern Hindi-speaking states of India, girls literacy rates are particularly low, ranging between 33 – 50%.

–UNICEF, Girl Star Project

Instead, my daughter and I began to share anecdotes about our time in India – sprinkled with a few random facts. The best question came in response to a story about monkey aggression on Elephanta Island. Within our first few moments there, just where you set off to mount the dozens of wide shallow steps to the caves, a monkey jumped down in my front of my astonished second son. She grazed his chest lightly with her paw as she landed in front of him. We all were stunned, him especially. He dropped his defenses. His muscles slackened. The monkey struck again, grabbing his lemonade and jumping back into her green canopy. She took greedy pulls of lemonade in the trees. She did not even look at us. This was strictly a business decision on her part.

After our classroom presentation was over, a little girl came up to me. She looked worried. “How did your son get his lemonade back?”

Since there’s no fooling smart young kids, especially the day after a Code Red, I took the honest approach: “When a monkey takes your lemonade, you don’t get it back. She drank it all.”

After that we began a taste test. Small steel dishes were places at every table. The teachers scooped out banana and pita chips onto sheets of paper towel. The kids looked wary of the pulpy emerald mixture. I heard some “what is that?” But they got down to business ASAP.

At a couple tables, the chutney went fast. Refills were requested. I was surprised. Then I wasn’t. “This is nasty!” pronounced one girl. I appreciated that she was able to tell me to my face, with a smile. No backstabbing about it.

“Mom-lecture mode” was activated.

“I can understand that you might not like how chutney tastes. It’s a very different taste, and some of my kids don’t like it, either. But a word like ‘nasty’ is not the nicest way to tell someone you don’t like their cooking. What’s another way to let me know what you think of the chutney?”

The student was unperturbed. This was a friendly conversation. We were all learners in that room.

“Um. I don’t like this?”

“Yes, that sounds a lot nicer than ‘nasty.'”

We parted as friends. She liked the pita chips and gave me a parting “thank you” hug.

I hoped to swipe a few calories of chutney myself, but by the end of our 45-minute whirlwind tour of India … the chips were gone. I vowed to make myself a grilled-cheese and chutney sandwich with Granny Smith apples just as soon as I could. I packed up the Tinkles and the chutney, stashed our roll-up map of India back in the brown paper bag. I walked out of the school, handing in my visitor’s badge on the way out. The door thudded shut behind me.


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