“India Is”

So maybe I lured you here under false pretenses. Maybe I’m no kind of cook, just a mom with a dayjob and a desktop folder stuffed with navel-gazing meditations on life and death and what consumes all the time in between: parenthood.

Does it matter, so long as I make you a tasty meal now and again?

Without further ado, I introduce a poem I wrote for you.


When you drink chai for a week like it’s water.

One day your mami tells you: “Buffalo Milk. Buffalo milk. No cow.”

Every syllable is a proclamation. She needs you to know this.

How many calories of chai? You wonder.

India is a hotel room where they don’t change the sheets.

Two towels more, you smile your best American smile. Please?

When the toilet paper is gone, and room service: They won’t give you more.

Moments like this – and art projects – reveal the versatility of cardboard tubes.

India is your Dadi Ma. Old enough to be married at 14,

but too old to remember her mother; passed in her third childbirth, aged 19.

You are just beginning to become old.

When grandchildren come to visit in between trips to Trivandrum and Muderai, Kodaikanal and Bangalore, Dadi Ma is:

  • a stop between hill stations.
  • A hello and goodbye.
  • A swirl of hair that can hardly hold itself together. Knotted low on a brown neck still straight and proud.
  • A language your children can’t understand.

India is language. Dozens of them,

When the Gujarati clan from Dubai won’t believe you speak none of them.

“Just a little they ask?” coming closer in the pool, drawn to broken Gujarati

like moviegoers at the multiplex.

When you’re shy for reasons that are not the blue bathing suit,

the closing semi-circle of women and men in water, the sunburned shoulders popping freckles as you stammer.

“Pani, upara, beta, came cho, eka minata, dudha,” you break down in a string of baby talk.

It sounds like: “Water up darling, how are you? One minute milk.”

In retrospect, that’s a sentence.

India is mosque, temple, church, mosque, mosque, church, Virgin Mary, Ganesh on every dashboard. Diamonds for sale next to the cool bar selling pepsi and potato chips that is next to the ladies on the corner. They sell fishes wrapped in newspaper.

India is so rich, except when it is so poor.

When you are at your worst is when the children find you. Draw to skin that burns and freckles, clothes cut low, T-shirts that hug. Americans, they will find you.

Tell them “no.” Walk away. No rupees for you today.

Your daughter sees them better.

“Why do so many moms ask you for money, but you won’t even look at them?”

India is where she sees you more clearly, too.

Under the smog of Mumbai and in the sea of Trivandrum.

Over the wall of languages waiting to be climbed every hour. Dog fight at midnight!

A chorus of frogs for when it gets quiet.

India is a place to see past the noise. Listen.


Chutney Challenged 101

Recently I was in Mumbai. It’s a fascinating, frustrating, bustling, busted-up, breaking-out kind of city. There’s so much going on, progress has been made, folks never stop eating, talking, giving you advice you never asked for and second-third helpings of food you never asked for. Mumbai also is dirty – monsoons, mega-population, corruption, infrastructure needs might help to explain the city’s gritty, dusty, weather-beaten look. I tried reading “Maximum City” about five years ago. It just did not go well, which says more about my attention span than about the quality of the book.


Take all this as clear confession that I know very little of or about Mumbai. Thinking I would avoid passing down this ignorance to my own children, I gratefully purchased “366 Words in Mumbai,” a kids’ guide to Mumbai published by FunOkPlease. Pages 36-37 feature “Cuisine of Mumbai.” I had tried nearly every dish on the spread: dosas, ragda patties, pani puri and pav bhaji (!!!) to name a few. But make them? I couldn’t. I can’t. I would never…

…or would I? Oh yes I will. Hence, the name of this blog might become more meaningful to my reader (hi mom!). Last week I initiated my Chutney Challenge with a crowd-pleasing classic: bhel puri. “Bhel” rhymes with “whale.” “Puri” translates roughly to bread and rhymes with Suri (Cruise; sort of).

Bhel puri is colorful, versatile, and easy-enough to make and to eat. Here in the U.S., you might not find it on an Indian buffet or the menu of a pricey fusion restaurant. But in India you can find it anywhere: street corners in big cities, backroads in beachy southern towns, at your aunt’s place because your mother-in-law will tell every living relative from Mumbai to Madurai that her American daughter-in-law loves bhel puri. Then everybody makes it for you. This is a good thing, because nobody will let the American laughter-in-law buy bhel puri from vendors on the street or on the beach. For sanitation reasons, street food is not considered a wise choice for the western GI system. In an upcoming post, I will share with you my own experiences making, sharing and explaining bhel puri. Or you can just google some recipes. They’re out there. But I have shortcuts and funny musings to supplement my recipe. So maybe you’d best stick to the buffet for now and come back to Chutney Challenged in a day or so.

Tip: bhel puri pairs best with Corona Light.


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