Feb 242010

As a young married adult, this dish was one of the first I made and liked. It’s from an old Tarla Dalal book: “New Indian Vegetarian Cookery.” The recipe page has mark-ups and cooking stains that are over two decades old. The page has more stains than any other page – proof that I made it the most.

“The colorful mixture of vegetables added to the rice makes this an attractive pullav to serve.”

Serves 6, Preparation time: 15 minutes, Cooking time: 40 minutes

9 oz rice
4 tbsp ghee
1/2″ cinnamon stick
2 cloves
6 oz cooked corn
1 green pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 boiled carrot, diced
1/3 pint plain natural yogurt
2 tbsp cream
1/2 tsp sugar
4 oz water

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp grated fresh or flaked coconut
5 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2″ cinnamon stick
2 cloves
seeds of 2 cardamoms
1″ piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 tsp poppy seeds (khus-khus)
6 red chillies


Put the rice in a sieve and wash thoroughly under cold water. Boil the rice for 15-20 minutes until it is cooked. Drain and cool.

Heat the oven to 400. Blend the ingredients for the paste in a blender or food processor with a little water. Heat half the ghee in a large pan and fry the cinnamon and cloves for 30 seconds. Add the cooked rice, corn, green pepper and carrot. Season with salt and continue frying for 1 minute.

Heat the remaining ghee in a saucepan and fry the paste for 3-4 minutes. Add the yogurt, cream and sugar. Season with salt, add the water and cook for 1 minute.

Spread half the rice mixture on a sheet of aluminum foil and spread the curry on top. Cover with the remaining rice mixture, fold over the foil and seal. Bake the parcel in the oven for about 20 minutes. Unwrap and serve hot.

Feb 192010

Rajma with Rice

1. Rice: Use a rice cooker or a regular pot. Use 2x the water. Add salt, butter and washed rice. Cook until done. Can add frozen vegetables toward the end of cooking time.
2. Dal: Cook desired lentil such as split mung or red lentil with water on the stove or slow cooker. Add desired spices cooked in your preferred oil.
3. Rajma: Mixture of kidney beans and canned diced tomatoes (or fresh). Saute desired spices with onion & garlic. Add tomatoes and kidney beans.
4. Potatoes & Peas: For a quick dish, precook potato in the microwave (some have a potato setting). Dice and saute with desired spices. Add frozen peas. If desired, for more protein, add sauteed, diced tofu.
5. Raita: Add a little water to plain yogurt. Add shredded cucumber, shredded radish (optional) and any desired spices.

Top with cilantro if desired. I like almost all Indian and Mexican food topped with it.

Split Red Lentil Dal


Culturally-Focused Aid

 Cultural Organizations  Comments Off on Culturally-Focused Aid
Feb 172010

I was struggling with my arranged marriage while in college in 1987. Specifically, I felt challenged not only with a new unplanned life in a new city, but was trying to cope with hosting in-laws in my new small apartment after having just spent months with them in India, and adjusting to a new college at the same time.

I started seeing a therapist, and she advised something along the lines of why my husband was hosting them so long (about six months) and why he couldn’t just ask them go back. I remember thinking about all the cultural (and specific to his family) reasons what she was asking couldn’t happen. He was the only son, his father was ill, they set the rules, etc., etc. She sounded very simplistic. I needed some help dealing with the culture I felt bound with as well.

When I was forced in the marriage to begin with, there was no one to turn to, preferably a person or place that had some cultural understanding. At that time and others, I felt imprisoned by the culture I was born into.

Years later, after moving to Chicago in 1994, I discovered Apna Ghar, a shelter that provided aid with a South Asian cultural focus. I worked part-time as the organization’s Volunteer Coordinator. I also worked at a women’s shelter through the YWCA in Evanston, while completing a paralegal degree.

There are other South Asian organizations that can also aid those that are South Asian or other immigrants that could use help, but especially help that is sensitive to their cultural background and the specific situations and concerns they may have. There are people that can understand and help. They may not be in smaller cities and towns, but thanks to the internet and other technological advances like a cell phone, help does not need to feel far away or non-existent.


Unaccustomed Earth

 Books, Cultural Confusion  Comments Off on Unaccustomed Earth
Feb 162010

I just sped through author Jhumpa Lahiri’s book, “Unaccustomed Earth.” It was hard to put down and I’ve looked forward to whatever breaks I could get to read it. I even read it Sunday night, on Valentines night, when my husband fell asleep early in front of the television. I decided to not wake him and read my book for several hours with a gin and tonic. It was a nice evening! I’ve read all her other works so far, including “Namesake” and “Interpreter of Maladies.”

There seems to be an underlying theme to her stories, about immigrants from India. Specifically, I’ve noticed that all the Indians are Bengali, which I assume the author to be. It’s fine to write about what you know! There are common aspects to the Bengalis that holds true of all Indians from different parts of India. Once in the states, there is a tendency to seek one’s kind. Finding any Indian is good, but finding someone that is exactly from where one is even better.

I’ve seen this tendency of specific minority groups sticking together first-hand in various cities I’ve lived in. There are even different organizations for each of the sects, not just one Indian organization, of which there is normally one. Lahiri refers to this in all her stories. The mothers find others like themselves, or try at least. There is a struggle with fitting in and rejecting the culture around them, and then eventually, some sort of truce or peace. Many of the characters go back to India – usually the first generation parents. They have “paid their dues” in the states and once the kids are out of the home, there is a calling from the motherland.

Many of their kids run the other way. Some excommunicating their roots entirely and seek out the world at large. They are tired of their global experience consisting of annual trips to Calcutta. Most second-generation Indians, or ABCD’s (American Born Confused Desis), would be able to relate to Jumpa Lahiri’s stories. We would find a little piece of ourselves in the struggles the characters face, which she paints very descriptively. We feel we know them and are saddened when they die.

I look forward to Jumpa Lahiri’s next work.

 Tagged with:

A Bi-cultural Heritage

 Adaptation, Authenticity, Cultural integration  Comments Off on A Bi-cultural Heritage
Feb 112010

Since having moved to the US when I was seven, I’ve gone through various phases of adjusting and adapting to a new culture and figuring out what parts of two cultures I wanted to integrate. Some of this has been conscious, some not. There were swings of loyalty. On a study abroad trip to Rishikesh, India in 1990 when I was 22, students could visually see these swings in the attire I wore. One day I would wear a sari and the next jeans. I started the days at the ashram early with a candlelight, reading the Bhagavadgita, which we were studying, and listening to bhajans, with the sound of the Ganges nearby. I had never felt more at peace.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that there are many factors that play into how people respond to a different culture and to the extent that they adapt. South Asians from India have come to label people as “FOB” (fresh off the boat) or “ABCD” (American Born Confused Desi). I’m realizing that there are many grey areas between these labels where most people from India fit. There are people in India that could be labeled “ABCD,” even though they may never have lived or visited the US.

By the same token, I know Indians that were born in the US that could be labeled “FOB,” and may have just taken a few trips back to the “motherland.” This has much to do with the culture they find themselves in at the time and how this resonates for them at a personal, individual level. As the world becomes more global, there are increasing numbers of Indians in India that live in a very Western world within India, although it may be a stereotype of a Western world. Some of these changes can be seen in portrayals in Indian cinema, at least in terms of what appears to be “cool,” even if many may not live those lifestyles.

For instance, in “Pyaar Ke Side Effects,” dating appears to be common, along with premarital sex (being accepted) and women living on their own. The attire is almost entirely Western, and there is even open kissing! The theme is a typical Western theme, of a non-committal guy and a woman ready to get married after dating a long time, and who is also a “runaway bride.”

It seems counterproductive to try to label others or ourselves on some range of FOB to ABCD. With increasing globalization, it will become irrelevant. We are just people that resonate with different aspects of different cultures we are exposed to at different levels based on our different temperaments and personalities, some of which we are born with and some we develop from our experiences.


35 and Life Begins Anew

 Authenticity, Memoir: 2003 - 2005  Comments Off on 35 and Life Begins Anew
Feb 062010

On my thirty-fifth birthday, in June of 2003, I received my divorce – the best present ever. I had started a brief relationship at work that instilled some sense of my attractiveness. By that Fall, I began casually dating others and getting to know my preferences. I mostly went on one-date coffee dates, and didn’t necessarily feel the need to see them again. I felt like I was experiencing a phase I was supposed to have lived at eighteen. I was getting know myself and most importantly, to feel comfortable being with myself and in my skin. Although there was a weekend I squeezed in eight dates (to maximize my child-less alternating weekends), I also enjoyed not scheduling any dates and relishing the peaceful solitude.

Three was about the maximum number of dates I went on with any one person. A male friend teased me about this – my normal “one date” policy. I teased him for having a pattern of four-month “relationships” with women and then breaking their hearts. I didn’t feel ready for a relationship and passed up some great guys that were eligible and would have potentially made great mates.

I focused on my getting myself financially stable so that I could take good care of my son. I felt that I was all he had and could not count on anyone else, including his father. I worked a lot of over-time, taking my son in to work with me on weekends occasionally. I also got an MBA, on-line. I stayed very busy for a few years after 2003.

By the following summer, in 2004, I managed to move my son and I into a different and better home. It was empowering to feel like I could do anything and create the life I wanted. There was stability in my life and my son thrived within the structure. I kept him at a great school nearby, making sure my new home was nearby and driving two hours to work. I felt proud that I managed to keep him at the same school since kindergarten, as I had grown up moving every two years.

By the fall of 2005, met a man through church and decided to give love another chance. We married two years later, on 7/7/07 (along with many others). We have survived bumps and I am blessed to have had a daughter in February of 2009 who I didn’t expect to have.

I am hopeful for my future and my children’s. I look forward to seeing them growing up and learning from my past to be a better parent. There have been many lessons (and continue to be more) that I will keep reflecting on. I want to make the most of the life that I have.

Feb 042010

Once I actually married the wrong man after living with him for three years and experiencing every red flag, I was surprised to not be immediately inducted into the “you’re now an acceptable Indian girl” club. But I was no longer being a “bad” Indian girl by living with him! Look, I married him. So that made me a bigger moron and then I was married to one, too…

Since I am persevering (I actually got “the most persistent account executive” award in college), I stayed with the wrong man for eleven years. Still, no award….Maybe the “you’re acceptable committee” lost my address???

Being a “babe in the woods” (as one therapist referred to me as) is a rough road for many South Asian women, an option that is intimidating and maybe encourages many to stay in the wrong situation for too long. There are a lot of scary things in the woods, that we haven’t seen before. However, if given the chance, we discover that the woods are just beautiful. They are majestic, proud, and allow for stillness and sweet solitude. Yes, sweet solitude, not being “alone.” It is the same concept, but a very different view.

It’s a view that allowed me to finally be the “happiest divorced woman in the world.” Dr. Phil says you must “earn your way out” of a marriage. Boy did I take that seriously. He probably would have told me to leave much sooner and to not have taken the marriage pledge in the first place. I filed almost four times. I took prescriptions for apparently being bipolar, but it was actually to deal with an emotionally unavailable and unresponsive man, and insomnia. I was first misdiagnosed with the illness after my breakdown at 18, though I was not informed until a breakdown and end of my first marriage. I started prescriptions and took them for ten years, until 2002, when a doctor confirmed I did not have the illness, that my issues were related to my destructive relationships. Right before the breakdowns, I had also not slept for several days, which can trigger episodes that mimic the illness, just as truck drivers who don’t sleep can experience hallucinations.

I believe it is true that the universe tries to give us messages, and we have to train ourselves to be receptive. In my situation, the messages had to get louder and more obvious. In 2001, there were very messy divorce proceedings, when my son was three. I struggled with the idea of failure of my marriage (again) and its impact on my son. 911 happened, which fed my reluctance to end my marriage. I should have pushed through these fears and completed the hard-won process.

However, I told my attorney that I wanted to cancel the proceedings. I allowed my husband back in my life and the bricks from the universe began being hurled at me in full force. There were monthly catastrophes. A pregnancy in February that ended, a roll-over in April that I escaped without a scratch, a bankruptcy in June…etc….etc….By my thirty-fourth birthday in June, I realized that if I didn’t end my marriage for me, I needed to do it for my son. I realized I would not want him to be in a marriage that made him miserable, and yet that is what I was role-modeling. We began living “separated” in our home, with my husband living in the lower-level. It was impractical and emotionally-damaging. By September, I had my husband legally removed (he had been unwilling to leave on his own).


Marrying the Wrong Man

 Authenticity, Cultural Confusion, Memoir, Memoir - 1991  Comments Off on Marrying the Wrong Man
Feb 032010

To be a good Indian girl (the Indian paternal voice in my head said), I needed to be married, to anyone, rather than be unmarried. I didn’t have a maternal force in my life to help make the right decisions in the area of romantic love. I was just to say “yes” to whoever my parents decided and that whole area was done! There was nothing to consider beyond this. No direction in understanding the opposite gender and creating a meaningful relationship.

How was I to know the type of guy that was right for me? I thought I was being noble and not “money-oriented” by not worrying about the fact that he didn’t have a car and didn’t seem achievement-oriented at all. Compassion somehow meant committing my life to someone! After all, when I had told my mother I was not interested in marrying the man selected for me, I was told to not be rude to our “guest.” Did that mean I was to marry him?? Having a sense of self-worth instilled was missing from parental objectives. If I had a decent sense of myself and valued that, I imagine that I may have wanted more for my life than what this man-child seemed to offer.

I let myself be abandoned to the moment and optimism that everything would work out. Misguided optimism has gotten me into a lot of trouble! It ends up meaning recklessness when events that require serious consideration are not given that. It is about not taking one’s life very seriously or valuing it much, and acting impulsively. I didn’t get the message from my environment to think things through clearly and make sure it matches what you want. When I tried, I was shut down. So when evaluating the guy I had met accidentally at a club and dated too long (after the first night), I thought “surely he would get his act together.” He would get an education. Why wouldn’t he? It was the reasonable thing to do and everybody was reasonable, right? So what if he was having a delayed start by not having started college while I was done? Pria, Pria, Pria!!!

If I were my daughter, I would say to her, yes, you should look at what has been done till now. If you could manage a goal by now, why shouldn’t you expect your prospective mate to have achieved that by now? If you have the values that you do at your age, perhaps you should expect the same from your mate at his age. People’s values and character don’t change very much. If you start out ambitious, you stay that way to an extent. Doesn’t that matter for a marital candidate?

Get Adobe Flash player