mother and daughter

A quiet wave is crashing in this piece of the world.

Mother and Daughter sit and stare silently into the fluttering, cottony cafe. Daughter exudes carelessness, Mother feigns it. Mother folds her hands, not sure where to put them in this quiet, clean, expensive world. Daughter is clearly bored with it. Neither wants to be here, mother nor daughter, but they should right? They should be enjoying themselves. This is where people come to enjoy themselves.

Mother’s drink arrives and she tries to give it to Daughter, like so many other things. Daughter doesn’t WANT it, mom. Mother relents, carefully sucks the strawberry up the straw, a strange sensation. Was there a time when another straw meant a day out, a walk along the sea face, buying a juice as a young fresh-faced Daughter?

Mother tries to give again.

Daughter gazes out. Rejects the drink, places it firmly back. I don’t. Want it. But that’s not the point, Daughter. Daughter will not see.

Mother’s insistence is drowned out by a persistent mechanical dinging. Daughter disappears into an imaginary world – it is as though Mother isn’t even there. Mother sits, with her hands folded. Mother leans, peeking at the imaginary world — where is Daughter going? Daughter glances sideways. Mother leans back. Mother sits with her hands folded again. Quiet. Accepting.

Epilogue: This is a piece of the story, and not the whole one. There is more to mother, there is more to daughter.

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it is ok

Dear Shalaka,

Sometimes, it is enough that you left the house today, even if it was after 5 pm, dragging your feet, feeling the weight of the day wasted in the center of your chest and hunger blooming in your stomach. It is enough that you stepped outside, to let the smoky sun shine directly on your head, and the sticky sea breeze play with your hair. It is enough that you walked steadily on capable feet through the shaded streets gathering eggs and bread and onions and tomatoes and kadhipata, and wandered into a store in search of soap without plastic wrapping, and nervously into a wine shop, even though you were sure they would turn you away.

It is ok to pat yourself on the back for stopping at the chaat stall that still serves on stainless steel plates and costs 70 less rupees than the big one down the street, and it is ok to feel guilty when you think that’s small change.

It’s wonderful that you said yes to opening your home to food creation and a distant cousin you just barely met, and it’s a small wonder that when you invited multiple folks that you know varying degrees of well, and they all couldn’t make it, you felt entirely fine about it. It’s ok that you bought candles that were overpriced (just this once, ok), because you knew that you craved their soft light today. It’s ok that you spent all weekend thinking “I should write about something” but avoided it as a chore. It’s ok that you spent the money you spent (though lets re-evaluate how much of a need this fancy chocolate is, another day).

It’s wonderful how joyous it felt to ride the train again and see human patterns floating in the sky as kites, celebrating this day of transition as the earth turns its face back towards the sun. Well done on slowly assembling your kitchen, kudos for the slow meals you have been steadily making all week. We never thought you’d be living alone with quiet gratitude for any length of time, but here you are.

Do write those notes you mean to write to people you mean to tell you are thinking of them. Do search for places to have to be on weekends, places where you can take a break from thinking of yourself. Do sit up straighter. There is still time. But I hope you can sit still sometimes like this without the weight of your own expectations. It is ok today to take in: food, people, wine, time. It is ok that you did not better the world today. I hope you try again tomorrow.

making a home

I’ve decided to make my home here, for now.

Or at least, I’ve docusigned the electronic contract, imported enough Pilot G-2’s to last more than a few months and joined Flat/Flatmates Khar/Bandra/Santacruz on Facebook.

I’ve gone to public events sure to attract young, hip people, wearing my ‘I’m cool’ hoop earrings that make me walk taller, paired with my friendly-open-but-definitely-not-needy-just-really-nice smile.

I’ve started sleeping in a room where I can choose the temperature, tried to start living outside of internalized expectations.

I’ve spent consecutive weekends in the city and joined more arts and culture mailing lists than I can remember, in a fit of needing the company of peers. I’ve taken (more) endless pictures of train travel and tested the taste limits of Vile Parle East with my bared shoulders or fitted t-shirts or unpadded bra. I’ve moved from disdain of coffee shops to seeking them as quiet solitary refuge.

I’ve made a line item budget to plan my finances, and I’ve eaten an average vada-pav-a-day in the name of science/training my bowels but really in the name of fried gold for 12 rupees. I’ve amassed a stash of cash and switched to a full size wallet, catching and losing 2 rupee coins daily. I’ve returned to the same medical store twice in one week, and bought paints at a stationary shop. I’ve started Hindi lessons / meine Hindi ki tuitions shuru ki hain.

I’ve read prose on solitude, I’ve tried to learn to breathe when my eyes well up in public — at my brothers’ college app essay, at a photo of my sleepy person’s face, at the overwhelming feeling of uncertainty before going to interview strangers in broken-but-mending Hindi, at wearing the ‘wrong’ thing and attracting attention from the ‘wrong’ people with my ‘wrong’ body in my ‘wrong’ solitude.

I’ve googled devnagri tattoos and laughed at myself, finding myself on white girl Pinterest. I’ve told a group of strangers that I’m not sure where home is, but it smells like an udbati burning and looks like grey cool skies, vacuumed caarpets, and sounds like shastriya sangeet. But it also feels like the hugs of a few young adults out in the worlds of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Salatiga, Palo Alto, Toronto, Vancouver, and so many more.

I’ve face-timed Liam. A lot. And hoped it wasn’t too much. We’ve made the best-laid plans and aren’t prepared if they fall through.

I’ve walked down Nehru road on my way to the train station, grumbling about expectations in my life and walked right past a lady sifting trash on a Sunday, so she can be paid. I’ve lost and found fire for my work. I’ve learned a new Sanskrit word that captures self-love and self-actualization. I’ve promised and renegaded on a family tree project for days. I’ve craved silence. I’ve felt out of place, young, naive, sure of myself, wise, and capable.

For now, I’ve decided to make it all home.

code switching and sweat

Last week I moved to Mumbai. Maybe ‘moved’ is too dramatic a term – last week, I came to Mumbai with the intention of staying for 3 months, maybe more.

Some things I have learned since then:

  1. The air in monsoon is thicker than water; my nostrils are having trouble catching up.
  2. Humidity and productivity don’t match.
  3. There are no words to describe the relief of air conditioning.
  4. UberPool and rickshaws can cost the same.
  5. My Hin-glish is passable but not convincing.
  6. Want to feel privileged? Walk around Mumbai.
  7. Want to feel privileged? Be from an upper-middle-class highest-caste Marathi family. It is eye-opening to be in this country, under this administration, more aware of the political currents of the world than ever. My family are the WASPs of India: politically moderate, culturally conservative, privileged by generations of post-graduate education, in the religious majority, light-eyed, and light-skinned (oops missed that boat 💁🏾). We skeptically and hopefully watch Prime Minister Modi, a right-wing pro-market and pro-privatization politician in the interest of ‘something different’. But if he fucks up, our lives won’t really change too much.
  8. Much of my viewpoint of Indian culture, society and politics have been filtered through the above viewpoint.
  9. I don’t yet know what to do with my now even stronger privilege guilt.
  10. The local (aka train) isn’t as bad as everyone says, except when it is. If you stand near the door of the train, the crowd will carry you out. Elbows are thrown but only on the train to Virar because it only comes once in a blue moon (so far). Really, it’s not that bad. Don’t let my family scare you.
  11. The women’s railway car is a blessing. I will not ride in the other car.
  12. However, the fear of Indian misogyny is stronger than its’ presence (so far).
  13. Hanging out the door of a train is (a) not as scary as it sounds, and (b) just as filmy as it sounds, and (c) a crucial sweat drier, and (d) quite fun, but (e) I only dared to do it as I slowly pulled in to small-town India.
  14. Yes the food is good. The home food is better.
  15. Being cooked for is amazing. Feeling obliged to parental figures is not.
  16. Living 12.5 hours and many countries away from a partner is hard.
  17. ^Sharing that is weird, but I’m working on vulnerability.
  18. I am still the sweatiest person I know, even in a country full of brown people.
  19. I can and will alter my English accent to suit the company. I can’t and won’t guess how convincing my Indian accent is.
  20. In the morning, I wake in a 50 year old flat in a room without air conditioning. I take a bath out of a bucket, and put powder on my body, talking only in Marathi with my family. There is decades of urban dirt in the crevices, no matter how much they are scrubbed. Then I will take the women’s car, pressed full of bodies, into a hipper, younger, cleaner part of town. I will sit in air-conditioned cafes with the city’s elite, order black coffee, talk in American English, take calls and fill in spreadsheets, and be called ma’am. Then I’ll go home and eat (and love) simple Marathi food, fail to explain to my family why I go to cafes during the day if I’m here to work, and then I will sleep under a roaring fan, mosquitos buzzing lazily above. Code switching has never been so real.
  21. Spirits are low and spirits are high.
  22. I feel like months have passed since LA.
  23. Week 2 here I come.

the meaning of home

IMG_0476-1
My grandmother’s domain – the gas burner and the sugar tin, shared with Maharaj.

I had the idea for this post for a while, and almost abandoned it in the rush of returning to life, school, work, grocery shopping, etc. in Los Angeles. But in my important business of scrolling through Tumblr, I stumbled upon some words from the pop culture icons that high-school educated dramatics love to quote in an effort to seem cultured: Fitzgerald. He said this:

‘It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed, is you.’ — F. Scott Fitzgerald

Home to me is the Bay Area, with my nuclear family, but it is also the Indian and Marathi culture in which I grew up, and struggled with for many years. Therefore, home in a different way is the land to which my parents are inextricably tied, that I visited many times as a small, impressionable Shalaka; home is that place where I made countless really positive and really negative memories. It is the flat in Dadar, Hindu Colony (Mumbai) that belonged to my late grandparents since 1950, with its crumbling walls and third floor balcony locked by an actual iron lock that hangs, and Maharaj who has come every morning at 7:15 sharp to make a day’s worth of chapati for more than 20 years.Read More »

I googled egg puns but nothing cracked me up

IMG_0492I mentioned in a previous post that I am Marathi. This means most of my family cooks and eats vegetarian food not sold in Indian restaurants, speaks the language that is concentrated in the state of Mahrashtra, is frugal, precise, and does well in school.

We’re basically the kind of Indian known for being sticks-in-mud, but with hazel eyes (THAT I DIDN’T EVEN GET, THANKS MOM)

Of course, I’m kidding, and not trying to offend or distance myself from my cultural roots. That being said, I don’t think any of my Marathi relatives would have taken me for lunch at the hole-in-the-wall restaurant that I visited last week . It has been across the street from my grandparents’ home for over 50 years since they first moved in, but I may be the first from my family to step foot inside.

And guys, it was so. freaking. good.

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Spherical sweet things make the world go round

IMG_0243-1I had a lot of trouble writing that title, because my college student mind could not get around the fact that I wanted to say all my favorite desserts in the past week have been sweet balls. Sorry to everyone past the age of (me) that is reading this.

Been spending the past few days in Parle, a majority – Marathi area in Mumbai [the artist formerly known as Bombay]. (For the uninitiated, Marathi is the type of Indian I am + the language I fail to speak with my family)

Parle is also home to the biscuit factory known by brown kids around the world for producing that ubiquitous lightly-sweetened ‘glucose biscuit’: Parle G.

According to Wikipedia, it is the largest selling brand of biscuits (read: crackers) in the world. That makes sense, because Indian people can’t go a day without chai (stereotype based in truth) and chai cannot be had without Parle G, since production began in 1939.

I’m not going to say I digress because I think that’s the whole point of this whole shindig: to digress.

But I digress.

So I’ve been staying with my aunt and uncle in Parle, and utilizing my beloved-niece-returned-to-India status by requesting all of the sweet things I can of my culinarily-gifted aunt. This lady also has a degree in library science, a 30 year career in managing portfolios, the same hands as my grandma, and a general reputation as badass in residence.

She was somewhat disappointed by the simplicity of the food I requested, but of course we set about making it anyways: besan laddus.

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