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Cooking Up Happiness MAG
It's New Year's Eve and my dad's entire family has come to visit. The house fills with chatter of an unknown language. I feel alienated when surrounded by these people who are my own blood. I'm different.
My father's friends ask me questions, but I don't understand a word. Most of them speak English but choose not to. All I can offer is a smile to fill the awkwardness. “Punjabi neih bolding,” I overhear my father say. I've heard that so many times that I understand it: She doesn't speak Punjabi. “Ahh,” his friends reply, as if it's some sort of disgrace to be half Indian and not speak their language.
To me, their language sounds like gibberish. Most of the time I feel paranoid, wondering if they're talking about me. I see friends and family look at me for a second then turn away, continuing their conversations. That's the look I hate the most.
Then again, I think about my mother. Unlike me, she has no Indian blood. I wonder how she feels. Most of my dad's family judged my mother because she is Mexican. They believed that she didn't have the skills that an Indian wife should, such as the ability to cook Indian food. My mom was determined to prove them wrong.
The smell of spices and curry fills the air. Some spices are so strong that they burn my throat as I inhale them. I follow the trail into the kitchen and see my mother preparing food. I help her set the table. There are large bowls of lentils, vegetables, and curry, each with its own color and texture. I bring out the dal – lentils boiled with spices and vegetables. They look like small beans floating among the vegetable and spices. I can see green chilies, onions, cilantro, tomato, all very small but mixing together to create a rainbow.
The next bowl I bring out is sabji. The curry drowns out the cooked peas and carrots, giving them a new color. The small cheese cubes are added last. They are easy to see, since they remain white.
I set a dish of sahg on the table. At first glance, it looks like the most disgusting food ever – spinach and mustard leaves boiled for hours until it looks like a dark green paste. Despite this, it's delicious and especially made for winter. The spices and chili drown the bitter spinach taste.
Finally, my mom walks into the dining room with the most special dish of all, aloo gobi. She sets it right in the middle, as if it is royalty compared to all the others. I look into the large bowl and see cauliflower crowns blooming with steaming potatoes, spices perfectly scattered over the vegetables, making them glow bright yellow, catching my eye and luring me in.
Everyone serves themselves. I choose the aloo gobi first. We sit around the table in the illuminated dining room. My dad is laughing with his family and friends, enjoying this time. My mother and I remain quiet and eat in peace.
Then all of a sudden, I hear something that is music to my ears. “This is the best I have ever tasted!” I look up and see my aunt with a huge smile on her face. Everyone exclaims in agreement. The alien language I had been hearing all day is gone. English fills the room. Everyone is complimenting my mother. I can hear shock and amazement in their voices. My mother, having no experience with the Indian culture, can make much more than a decent Indian meal. As everyone fills their stomachs, the chattering fades, leaving a silent satisfaction in the room.
Now the house is quiet. I pick up the dishes and take them into the kitchen. My mother is outside with my father saying good-bye to everyone. Even from inside the house, I can hear laughing. I hear one of my uncles yell in awkward English, “Next time you cook to my house!”
Finally there is complete silence. I look back at the dining table where most of the food is still set out. The large bowl in the center is completely empty, as if it has been licked clean.
Two years later, I wake to the smell of curry. I walk outside to see my eldest aunt squatting by a fire. She rises to greet me with a tight hug and kiss. I see a bright yellow color cooking in the pot over the fire. My uncle is milking the buffalo, and my cousin is buying vegetables from a man pulling a cart.
I am where it all originated: Punjab, India. It is where my other half was born. No one speaks English here; no one dresses like me or even looks like me. I get weird stares whenever I walk to the market. Despite that, for the first time I feel like I belong.
It seems as if my mother's adaptation to the Indian culture helped me grow closer to my Indian roots. If it weren't for her, I would have been indifferent to being half Indian. Now I cherish my multiculturalism more than I ever have. I think about this as I sit at the table with a cup of warm buffalo milk and a bowl of aloo gobi, savoring this food for the first time in the place where it all began.