Tastes Like Home by Nithya Venkat
I really resent vocabulary that tend to eroticize and exoticize India because I hate the idea of my culture being something fundamentally different. The idea of Indians and other ethnic groups being seen as something like a parrot in a cage makes my skin crawl. Living in America with the label of minority on my forehead, it’s difficult to feel like anything but an artifact on display. I thought India would be different, but it’s the same. Men stare. Women gawk. People take photos
At home I drink chai with my mom on our granite countertop while I watch Masterchef and my mom tells me it’s staged. And that tastes like home.
After our trip to Meenmutty Falls in Trivandrum, stomachs full from biscuits and laughter after Tabish’s unfortunate fall into the stream, we stopped by a tea shop. I use the term shop loosely. It was a few metal rods and plates, a blue tarp, and a Malayali woman serving chai in a nightie. We stood in a circle, clothes wet from venturing too deep, burning tongues, holding glasses, and sharing more laughs— mainly about Tabish’s fall (even if he insists he didn’t but DJ saw the wave of water that resulted.)
I like to say moments like those are doused in honey. Reflecting back I see rainbows refracted through sugar crystals and smiling faces is rain puddles. The 8 of us are truly different from each other— but in the eyes of the people we meet in the US and India, we are the same. Here in this circle we are not homogenous. Our differences are felt. Sugar crystals are cracked, conversation is clunky, honey is sticky and so is tea. But still I would say, this tea shop, a word I say with confidence now, tastes like home.
Nithya is one of 8 students in Indiaspora’s inaugural HeritageINDIA Program. A unique, immersive, 3-week summer program, this initiative gives high school students of Indian descent the opportunity to connect to their ancestral homeland. Students experience and engage with India’s rich and diverse cultural history by completing hands-on projects, participating in stimulating discussions, and building friendships with a cohort that will share in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. With the exciting theme of India’s Riches: History, Culture, Diversity, & Democracy, students visit three areas of India that are geographically and culturally diverse, yet all very much represent India:New Delhi, Gujarat, and Kerala.