Sunday, May 26, 2013

Oh, No, Not Calcutta!

A child is born.  His parents dote on him, particularly his mother.  She is far from her family and restless, but caring for his little needs, taking him his stroller around Cambridge while his father studies at the university every day, gives her new purpose.

She and her husband give him their best gifts: their Bengali food, the curry and the rice balls; their Bengali friends who, along with their children, fill the house during the boy's birthday parties; Bengali scenery, absorbed on those visits back to Calcutta; and their Bengali culture, transmitted during special classes with the other Bengali children.

The son would rather eat pizza and Coke.  And when those Bengali children show up, they all gather in a bedroom to watch TV while their parents sit on floors all over the house, playing strange games and music.  On those Calcutta trips, the boy relieves his indifference towards the Taj Mahal by thumbing through the guidebook instead.  As for the classes--booooring!

Jhumpa Lahiri's  The Namesake gripped me from its first sentence.  This surprised me, since I regard India as the land of skin-melting heat, tongue-burning food, sudden-appearing cobras and, of course, poverty.  If it's on my list of places to visit, then it's somewhere after Viet Nam, but before Albania.

However, this story is about Indians in America.  It is about parents giving their all and children wishing they had given something else.  It is an old story, made fascinating here as it portrays a people attempting to have it both ways--the family connections in the old world and the wide open futures in America. 

Now, for all this cross-cultural fascination, I have absolutely no Indian recipe to share with you.  But I don't think you'll mind tearing into some --

Rio Grande Quesadillas.

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