A Family Like My Own

November 2, 2007
By
One of my best friends growing up was Amrita. We have never been in any classes together, but ended up falling into friendship because of our assigned seats on the bus ride home from school. Amrita has always been beautiful – though she’d be caught dead before admitting it – with her dark brown skin and long curling black hair. Raised by two brilliant professors at the local university and three years younger than a sister who turned out to be salutatorian of her graduating class, Amrita always felt second best. I’ve spent years trying to rid her of this illusion, but she still stands firm.

Three years ago, I was invited to Amrita’s sister’s graduation party. Amrita and Aditi barely look alike, but it’s dreadfully easy to tell that they are related because there seems to be this ongoing argument circulating between them (the perfect depiction of sibling rivalry).

I was the first non-family member to arrive at the party and almost immediately felt out of place. Everyone else present was dressed in tightly-wound saris, draping salwars of every color, and other assortments of matching outfits tailored especially for them. Each garment was made by hand, with tiny bits of beading running along the edges and beautiful circling designs winding themselves around arms and waists.

Amrita's mother spent the majority of her day cooking. This was evident by the constant stream of spicy fumes that wafted from the many pots and bowls assembled along the tiny kitchen into the backyard. The food looked like nothing I had ever seen before, which only made me all the more eager to taste it. I filled my plate with a little bit of everything and sat down to eat among the throng of Hindi-speaking relatives and other out-of-place friends. The first thing I tasted was a deceptive light brown mixture of beans that turned out to be filled with all sorts of spices. Next were a few milder dishes with colorful combinations of vegetables that I could not identify. I even tried a flaky crusted ball the size of a fist that looked benign on the outside but whose contents were a thick mixture of the spiciest potato and rice blend that I’d ever had.

As I looked around at the other guests, I could not help but be reminded of my own family, crowded around the dinner table during our yearly Passover Seder, singing Chad Gad Ya and chowing down on my grandma’s famous kougel – things that would surely have been just as foreign to the Amrita's family as their gathering had been to me. A few three-year-olds ran around the house chasing each other, reminding me of my brothers and cousins playing together each holiday; Amrita’s grandparents hugged and kissed her and basically everyone else present, reminding me of my own over-nurturing grandmother; and the beautiful skin-tight choli that Aditi wore as a gift from her parents reminded me of my bat-mitzvah dress and how my mother and I had spent hours picking it out, getting it tailored, and finding the right shoes. Amrita's family was, in essence, no different than my own. We all inhabited the same world and held the same place in it; they just wore different clothes, ate different food, and spoke a different language.

The universal signs and sounds of family were everywhere. It was a bizarre experience to observe a family that wasn’t mine, but that resembled mine in so many ways. It was also refreshing to be included in a family that had given me the understanding to see the beauty in my own.





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