I'm going to India! For a month! And there is so much to DO.
It's been three years since I last visited, and like every time, a lot has happened, this time probably more than usual (lookin' at you, Pantene Pro-V). I've visited India more times than any other place on earth, but each time, I somehow think/hope that it'll be exactly how I remember it, as if it's not allowed to change, only I am. I always want it to remain the beautiful, flawed, vibrant, chaotic country from my childhood, because then I am in control of how I show up when I'm there.
I'm bringing a LOT of change this time around:
* I'm going for a month, the longest I've ever been for since I was 20
* I'm traveling for pieces of it on my own without any family
* We're wedding shopping (pray for me)
* I'm bringing Orlando, my Black/Mexican fiancé whose mixed race-ness I am 100% sure nobody in India has ever seen (pray for me x 2)
I don't know how people will react, or worse, how they'll react behind our backs (for the uninitiated, desi aunties are gossip KWEENS; Blair and Serena could never). It's these comments, invisible to me but very much there, that I can't control or respond to, and that inform family dynamics and how stressed my mother will be. They will invariably lead to a huge meltdown fight, of which there is one every India trip, because my mom wants me to "let it go and listen," and I am too American to do either.
And that's what it comes down to: Am I too American to be accepted, and does this acceptance really matter?
I don't care about being accepted by aunties and uncles who I barely see. But my mom (rightfully) cares, because India was her home long before America was. These were her people long before I existed, and all those unspoken cultural norms I decode? She knows them by heart. And although I dare not ask her about it, I imagine that accepting me means she is also accepted, and that leaving her whole world to live in the US wasn't in vain.
And also—I do want to be accepted! Not by aunties, but by this place—by India. It's both silly and lofty. Like ok gurl, you want the entire country of India, a densely packed region of 1+ billion people, 100+ languages, and 30+ different types of bread, to accept you? An American who swoops in every few years, entitled to your sleeveless shirts and speaking exactly what's on your mind? And who this time is bringing an entirely non-Indian partner who you LIVED with before marriage?
Yes, that's exactly what I want.
India is in my blood—literally. A 23AndMe test revealed that I am 100% Indian, 50% from my dad's state of Karnataka, and 50% from my mom's state of Uttar Pradesh. (This has always been wild to me—in all the colonisation that India endured from Mughals to Brits, my family was like "nah.") I had an Indian accent until I was six, raised of course by my parents who landed in the US a year before I was born and who took my infant brother and me back to India for my kindergarden year. I grew up watching Bollywood over Boy Meets World, and I didn't see a PG-13 movie until I was actually 13. My school lunch sandwiches were toasted and sealed with a cast iron press and filled with jeera-laced aloo and crinkled, punchy muttar instead of PB&J (to this day, I dislike PB&J—it's so mushy and sweet!). I think in Hindi (sometimes), and I have large Indian eyes and a crooked Indian nose.
Oh, and I never sunburned.
But my Indian accent is long gone, replaced by a California drawl and the incessant need to express myself. I often put myself first before my family. I dream big. I prefer funnel cakes over jalebis and I don't pray (except for the haters). I couldn't even cook Indian food until I was 27.
By blood, I am Indian, but by nature, I am American. That's easy enough to accept, right?
I wonder if to be accepted in a place, I need to also accept it as a home, something India will never be. And without that acceptance, am I still intact, both in blood and in nature?
I'll be thinking about this over the next several weeks, sharing insights (and recipes!) of what it means to child of the diaspora searching for acceptance, a bridal lehenga, and some pani puris I can eat without getting water poisoning. There's so much to explore!
What is the appropriate gift for each family member that says "I don't really know you but I live in London and thought you would like this?"
Can I find an outfit that satisfies both tradition and my personality?
Will Orlando survive Delhi belly or worse, being force-fed by aunties?
What does it take to buy an Indian nationals ticket at the Taj Mahal instead of a much more expensive foreigner one?
How many bowls of gajar halwa a day is too much??
I know the answer to the last question (never too many), but for the rest, stay tuned.
Chai is the universal love language of Indians, both diasporic and native. Friendships have been forged over burning your tongues on the first sip and also broken from not adding the right amount of sugar. Don't be that person.
Everyone makes chai differently, but here's how I do it. We drink chai every single morning in our household, because without it, the day simply isn't allowed to start. And while I love desserts to no end, I prefer my chai with minimal sweetness but decent milkiness, which balances whatever pastry I'm eating. Get high quality black tea leaves from your local Indian store, or else online.
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