After we settled into the apartment my grandparents have lived in for years, I was presented with something I had sincerely missed: authentic South-Indian cuisine. Living in the United States and being surrounded by deep-friend, breaded foods has left me dying for spice and flavor. My grandmother’s lamb brought tears to my eyes (in an emotional and physical sense).
Following that was a looming sense of cultural ignorance today. Judging the sweltering heat, I put on a pair of shorts for my family’s trip to the sari store. Draping the dresses around my waist and arguing with my grandparents about the color maroon was extraordinarily tiring. Exhausted, I sat down in one of the chairs up against the wall, when a little boy ran towards my left, “Mom look at that girl!” he said, pointing at me. I turned towards his mother and I realized she was wearing a full body burqa, a Muslim garment that only reveals the eyes. I immediately felt a surge of self-consciousness and understood that my shorts were not only inappropriate, but disrespectful. I turned to the woman and apologized, explaining myself and looked around the store (I noticed that everyone was staring at me with disgust). Not only did I go home and change, but I packed away all my shorts and took out my sweats.
My mother and I decided to venture into a marketplace and familiarize ourselves with the environment. Chaos aside, the vendors sold a plethora of items. From bindis and beautiful bangles of all colors, to the less eclectic stickers and toy cars, the market was extraordinarily worldly. I also witnessed another side of my mom, who enthusiastically bargained with shopkeepers and pushed her way through the immense crowd. My mom was a child again and in her element; I banged my new 300 rupee drum all the way home.
We took a trip today to our family temple, which is a three-hour drive from my grandparent’s house. When I took out my earplugs and leaned against the car window, I saw the most beautiful place of worship in the world. High atop a hill, completely made of stone and adorned with color was our destination.There were only four idols, each about thirty feet tall. People were singing, making pongal for sankranthi (the South Indian harvest festival). Little boys were playing with sparklers, while the girls bashfully stirred the pots with their mothers. After taking pictures and talking to the priests about the temple, I fell to my knees and prayed at the god’s feet. I prayed for the usual: good grades, health, and happiness. I also thanked them for bringing me there, for showing me what I had forgotten.
As we flew home, my heart sank. The following weeks were filled with desperate phone calls to my grandparents, attempts at spicing my scrambled eggs, and of course: sweatpants. Growing up in the United States, away from my roots had led me to acquire a notion that culture is subordinate to finance, opportunity, and education. However, being in the country whose fundamentals and values built me led to a realization: that no matter how far I emigrate and how much I grow outside of India, its culture and its environment will spark the true ideals I hold. As I move on to college, I’ll embrace my roots and incorporate my experiences with what I left behind.
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