Tonight G and I ate dinner at Sai Ram, an Indian restaurant in a nearby town. Neither of us has much experience with Indian cuisine, so we were eager to explore the four page menu. I was positively giddy reading through nearly a page of vegetarian appetizers and entrees, finally settling on potato pakora and chana masala washed down with Kingfisher beer. As I ate a forkful of basmati rice with my spicy chickpea dish, the fragrant spices triggered a memory of my high school friend A. We participated in many of the same activities—school orchestra, town youth orchestra, and olympics of the mind (yes, i was a dork. yes i am a dork still.) We never spent much time at her house, but when we did I would inhale the unfamiliar scents of curry, which lingered on our clothes after we left. She would offer sweets that seemed coated with thin, aluminum foil. Her house, though outwardly suburban and "American" was altogether exotic.
I can recall moments when I thought subtly—and not so subtly— racist thoughts, such as when she was cast in the school production of Grease and I wasn't. I cringe at such memories and want to shake my younger self. I remember A gently asking us not to give her any more Christmas ornaments, as she didn't celebrate Christmas.
As I left my rather homogenous hometown and explored a broader world inside and outside of books, I realized many things about difference, about exile, about being a stranger in a strange land. I've often thought of A, and I long to apologize for my former self and insensitivity.
Now, threads of Indian culture weave through my lifestyle, from delicious food to literature (Jhumpa Lahiri is a favorite), to the ancient spiritual practice of yoga, to my eastern based philosophies of life, love, and human interaction.
I love how food forms a tangible bridge between cultures, and how for many of us, this is the first way we fall in love with another culture. New flavors and spices, textures and sites fill our plates, bellies, minds, and, most hopefully, hearts.
My heart overflows, and I pass some of this goodwill and compassion to my friend A, wherever she is.