A Piece of India This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

     The first time I went to an Indian party, I wore bright bangles that clanked together whenever I gestured with my hands. That night I couldn’t stop gesturing, whether it was spastically throwing open my long, white arms splattered with freckles to show just how spicy the sambar tasted to my unaccustomed mouth or to prevent a small boy with a troublemaker’s grin from jumping down a flight of stairs. The thin silver bracelets jimmied and jangled along my arms, twinkling in the small suburban house that somehow had been transformed into their homeland, India.

The transformation was a gradual procession of the scattered arrival of closely knit Indian families who gazed at me in bewilderment when I asked for their coats. Their careful and deliberate switch from English to Tamil made me even more uncomfortable. The words rolled off their tongues, curling into candy-coated souvenirs of a distant land that I could cradle in my hands but couldn’t place in my mouth. I tried to reproduce their colorful language, whispering softly behind a cupped hand, but the incorrect American pronunciation escaped from my mouth. The butchered word belly-flopped into the plush carpet before I had a chance to roll it around on my tongue to emulate its splendor. The ease with which the combination of soft consonants and hard vowels sprang from their tongues and reverberated in my body, sending waves of admiration and envy from my toes to my head. I could appreciate the beauty of the symphony of their words, but I would never understand the meaning.

Slipping out of their sneakers, the families carefully placed each pair of shoes by the front door, lining them up side by side, a testament to their strong, Indian family values. I glanced at my feet, covered in sandals bought for ten dollars on a rainy day in Chinatown, and a red tinge rose from the soles of the cheap shoes to my cheeks. I ran my hand over the bangles, brushing their glitter onto my skin, wishing for a piece of India to rub off on me.

India could clang up and down my arms, giggling quietly in circles around my wrists, whispering secrets to my delicate hands, but it would never be in my blood. For the first time in my life, I was the minority - a white American teenager who suddenly found herself alone in a house full of mysterious people who spoke a language too beautiful to understand.

It was not until I saw the pair of black eyes gleam from behind the stunning, detailed cloth of a mother’s sari that I understood. There was something that would not be lost in translation: the language of a child, the simple communication that involved little more than a joke and a hearty laugh. Indian children were no different from American children; they too craved attention and required a tremendous amount of energy. I offered the child my hand, and together we skipped to the basement.

As more children arrived, they found their way downstairs, following the scent of Froot Loops and the sound of laughter. At first they held back, unsure whether they should join in the fun with an American girl. Slowly they joined in the delight, dropping their mothers’ fingers to take hold of mine, stepping over the scattered crayons to sit on my lap, laughing in astonishment at my laugh.

Despite their age, each child had his own defined character. Among them was a princess who wore a light pink sari with matching jewelry; a third-grade troublemaker who had a glint in his eye that gave his mother gray hair; a bossy fifth-grader who dictated who could use which crayon; and a shy girl who hid behind her long, glossy hair.

Finally the children were summoned upstairs by their parents. They abandoned the basement, drawn to the warmth of a busy kitchen and the need for sustenance. I trudged up the stairs with barely enough energy to hold the heaping plate of food that was placed in my hands.

Inhaling the smell of the food, I hesitated, uncertain whether to eat something that looked and smelled so different. Then I dug my fork into the lamb biryani and an explosion of spices burst onto my taste buds. There it was, what I had been searching for that night: a piece of India inside me, a sliver of dark-skinned, barefoot women chatting candy-coated souvenirs, a fragment of the mischievous grin of a child, one bead plucked from a delicate handmade sari, one bangle stolen from my wrist, blossoming into a flower of flavor in my mouth.

Somehow the Indian women had managed to capture their homeland and bake it in an oven. Tears sprang to my eyes as the spices hurdled like an over-eager bouncy ball around of my mouth. The single bite echoed behind my pursed lips, ensuring that its pungency would be forever remembered: the piece of India.

* Teen Ink London Writing Program 2004 participant

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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cosmicIndian said...
Mar. 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Hi Laura

Hats off to your cultural sensitivity.Reading your piece i am convinced that after long last world is getting closer.no culture is alien,if we are sensitive enough to be open.enjoyed your piece and it's truthful tone.

Samyukta said...
Aug. 3, 2010 at 6:19 am
Hi Laura. I am from India myself but sincerely have never seen my own country and culture with such depth. It is often that we only look at the things around us while others see it! Good work!
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