Pravartika Wankhede

India

16-a lot on my mind

Message to Readers

'The Washerman's Dog- belongs neither to his house nor the waterside' , is a phrase that has haunted me forever. I feared I'd always be half-and-half and would stick out like a sore thumb among whichever community I was placed in. It took me time (and a number of therapy sessions) to realize that, yes, I was different, but ,no, people didn't judge me because of that. My home in North India and the people here have accepted me with a full heart for all my South Indian heritage, and allowed me to become an integral and accepted Northerner. I have come to love both sides of myself, but, I belong to the land and the people who have welcomed me without any reservations.
Show your love!! Your words mean everything to me. Every single comment and like makes my day/night/month/year. Love you forever.
Your girl,
Pravartika Wankhede

Eating My Identity

June 16, 2020


The large, orange tinted statue of Ganesha, eyes closed in bliss- fatly happy - sat against the wall at the far end of the Community Center -slash- gym in dad's little home village in Maharashtra, unbothered by the air saturated by the smell of sandalwood and jasmine and deeply fogged by the incense smoke. Before him on a platform lay a sumptuous feast- the traditional 21 modaks (dumplings) on a brass plate, bright orange ladoos with sugar melting off of them in the humid heat and a thermocol partition plate with a helping of bread stuffed with sweetened yellow gram, cold yogurt topped with dry fruits called shrikhand and a condensed milk novelty called basundi- fit for the foodie of the Hindu pantheism. Little browned-by-the-sun children, turned out in starched shirts and sparkly little outfits, roamed suspiciously around the platform, probably waiting for the perfect opportunity to knock some dumplings off. I wondered if anyone would notice if I knocked some off. My father, baba, always boasted of the times he stole delicacies at pujas and ceremonies. If he could why couldn't I? Ultimately, I gave up and decided Maharashtrian food wasn't worth it. I looked out, far towards the fields, and saw a sea of stars scattered carelessly across the night sky and a warm breeze rose and brought with it the song on the radio the old men in white dhotis and turbans were listening to.
             
             “ तिला विचारी राजा, "का हे जीव असे जोडावे ?
                का दैवाने फुलण्याआधी, फूल असे तोडावे ?"
                या प्रश्नाला उत्तर नव्हते, राणी केविलवाणी
                 भातुकलीच्या खेळामधली राजा आणिक राणी
                अर्ध्यावरती डाव मोडला, अधुरी एक कहाणी 

 
The King asks the Queen why we should attach our hearts like this,
Why the God of Fate tore down the bud before it could blossom.
 The Queen became speechless for no one has an answer to such questions.
                  The play was stopped, in the middle, and the story remained unfinished,
                  Of the King and Queen of children’s play.


For one passing, fleeting, vanishing moment, the song addressed itself to me with pointed fingers and accusations blazing like coals of a tandoor. Answer! it demanded. And I had none to give.
 
Every year except that one, of course, I celebrated Maharashtrian holidays in North India, back where I belonged, among teens my age, as uninterested and desperate to leave as the other, at an air conditioned hall of the Maharashtra Mandal or Council building. I'd show up with my parents and make exhausting small talk with well-meaning old Marathi ladies with moles, and leave with a packet of laddoos or modaks that I put into the fridge until our help threw it away. I wished to be back to the land where I could stop by at a roadside stall for a round of absurdly spicy potato chaat, and our help would make me the gorgeously golden-brown deep fried pandubas I so loved.
My family is deeply, unchangeably, unfortunately- South Indian. Job opportunities drew my mum and dad to the North, and I grew to be a girl of the North. But, every year when the dry, lethal and hot wind, we call the loo, roamed unchecked in our state, or when December came and came too cold, and that year on Ganesh Puja, we fled to the South. Mum and dad went to seek healing, solace and security: I always likened them to the giant Antaeus who grew stronger each time he touched Mother Earth. I went because I had to.                                      
                                                                         When I was younger, I gorged hungrily on the smooth, off-white, stuffed-with-dry-fruits dumplings on Ganesh Puja, and begged my aunt to make me the coarse flat-breads called bhakar with crushed red chilli chutneys- thecha. When I was younger, I sat on the high seat of the South, unsure of who I was: afraid, insecure, and I still am.
Elite, well-educated, comparatively civil Southerners mock us Northerners for our streets painted in red beetle-juice spits, and lined with the heavily pungent dung of cows and buffaloes,which make us the largest producers of dairy products in our country. They look down on us like old matrons, look upon misbehaving young maidens- for: our: language that is like aged whiskey- sharp at first, easily volatile: but, more often than not, smooth like cream cheese; our temperaments that fly and boil and threaten to kill, lurking beneath benevolent exteriors. Maybe they dislike us for our fields rich with sunlit wheat, dancing golden in the orange sun rays, or perhaps it is because, maybe it’s because of our royal Mughal heritage- that emerges as a brilliant surface of ever-present, never-failing courtesy. Maybe it is because we produce a brand of people that live with mercurial passion and aggression and go on to be politicians and poets.

We were back in the North that very month in late August, and I slipped back to the old routine of secret samosas after school, forbidden bhel puris outside the gates and clandestinely smuggled almond and saffron kulfis- our version of ice-cream. Back home, it was the just me,happily easing into North Indian delicacies that almost always involved potatoes and a breed of people who always chose mustard oil over the Maharashtrian staple peanut oil. After our half yearlies concluded, my best friend's mother invited our closest circle of friends for a day off. Dad drove us to my best friend's place and we got into her warm house, painted in the creamy yellow, baby pink and clear-sky blue pastels of macaroons- a safe haven from the bitter December cold. As we walked into the house, my her mother gave us a bear hug and said, her voice skipping, "Guess what I made for you, child? Appe! I also tried my hand at modaks, and the shrinkhand is still in the fridge. Your mother was kind enough to give me the recipes! Come, child you look shocked. Oh I.."
                                            They say your past comes back to you. The eliticism of the South that runs deep in my blood fits snugly into the aggressiveness and passion I’ve grown into. They also say, you are what you eat. In my case I choose to be whoever- eagerly waking up on dewy mornings for oddly orange jalebis, waiting in long lines for outside buzzing, aromatic restaurants for Luckhnowi biriyani, and shamelessly licking my pianists’ fingers after a plate of eggplant chokha and sattu baati, outside the High Court- makes me. I choose to be a girl of the North.
 
Maharashtra : a South Indian state.
Ganesha: the Hindu God of auspicious beginnings
Ganesha Puja: a Hindu festival celebrating Ganesha, popular in Maharashtra, goes on for 11 days and is ended by immersing Ganesha idols in water bodies.
 

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  • June 16, 2020 - 9:38am (Now Viewing)

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4 Comments
  • outoftheblue

    Replying: ahahaha yeah, hella unexpected.


    4 months ago
  • Sol noctis

    I love samosas.............yummmm.


    4 months ago
  • outoftheblue

    YES PRAV I AM SO PROUD OF YOU FOR FINALLY PUBLISHING THIS.


    4 months ago
  • Samina

    Wow! All the dishes mentioned are my favorite. Good job!
    I have been reading your work for a while and it's amazing! Keep it up :)


    4 months ago