Friday, January 12, 2018

Breaking bread

Decades ago in Neyveli, I ended up at lunch time at my friend's home.  His mother suggested that I eat there, and I did.

"My cooking will taste different from your mother's," she said.

It did.

Especially to me, who has been a taste-tester for my mother from since I can remember, of course I could tell the difference.  The rasam was different with the overpowering garlic.   Even the plain rice tasted differently. The thuvaran was the only one that was almost like my mother's preparation.

A few years ago, I was excited when two high school classmates invited me to dinner at their homes. They had both carefully prepared dishes with very little spices to suit this visiting American's tastes. 

A couple of years ago, another classmate invited me and my parents for a meal at his home.  "Your parents will eat at our home, right?" he asked me.  I had to remind him that my father and mother had even visited with him and his wife when they lived in Singapore.

In the "normal" course of events in the old country, all those meals are uncommon for a single reason--those friends and I come from different religious and caste backgrounds.

As Bezwada Wilson noted:
India is a fraternal society. There is a Brahmin society, a Reddy society and a Dalit society. Within each society, there is a sense of fraternity, but they don’t want to come out of that circle.
Sharing food at home with another is a calculated decision for almost all the folks back in the old country.  It is rare, therefore, that a brahmin invites a reddy over for dinner.  Or even for coffee.

My own life in America has been a wonderful contrast.  Right from the first day of graduate school, it has been a pleasure to share meals with people from all over.  The first ever "others" I invited to taste my cooking were a Pakistani and a Taiwanese.  And that was how it all began.

But, the past couple of years have made it clear that the "castes" here don't always mix.  Which is why, in the context of the upcoming holiday, this essay asks:
“Have you or your family ever invited a person or a family of another race to your home for dinner?” ... When is the last time you or your family had dinner in your home with a person or family of another race?
The fact that we have to even ask that question says a lot, right?
We are convinced that we will never get all the issues about race on the table, until we get our feet under the same table and talk like friends. At its core, racial divisions are a heart issue, not a skin-color issue. Our children need to see their parents developing friendships around the dinner table with people who look different, so that the next generation can be different.
Of course, the subscribers and regular readers of this blog are not the ones that we worry about.  But, how do we get this message across to the overwhelming numbers in whose lives the different circles never ever overlap?


Ramesh said...

I suggest travel to be the best way to broaden the mind. Perhaps those who have never traveled, start by visiting the next state. And then maybe a state on the opposite coast. And then to a neighbouring country. And then to a faraway country with a completely different culture. And so on.

Then, all the petty nonsense like caste, colour and look differences will all gradually go away.

Every Peace Corps volunteer I have ever met, is definitely one of the broadest minded persons in the world. In Kenya, I once met a young girl who had invited her mother from the US to visit. The young girl was a volunteer and spoke Swahili fluently having lived in Kenya for about a year. Her mother had never visited Africa before. I was with them for 2 days or so. It was amazing to see the transformation in the mother. And I was a brown skinned guy complicating the experience !!

Sriram Khé said...

Remember that old saying that we picked up back in school? “Travel makes a wise man better, and a fool worse.”
In my own experiences, I have run into people for whom travel only reinforced their awful and screwed up understanding of "others." I am sure you, too, have heard variations of "He is a *****, but a nice guy" as if they never expected that ***** to be nice people, and as if this one guy is an exception to the rule!
We are messed up, and the likes of modi and trump are making sure we will continue to be screwed up!