Indian Expat Parent: Cup of Tears, Bowl of Rice

padmajariceToday, more than any other day, I feel nostalgic. I feel torn and helpless that I am not at home, in India.

My grandfather has just called. “How are you?” he says. “I’m waiting to see you soon. I want to feed your little one, too.”

“Why are you so upset, Mamma?” DD asks me. She can tell from the dazed look on my face. I’ve spoken to my granddad many times since moving here. Thata is not an overtly emotional man. He’s a tough guy. But he sounded so different today. My eyes well up.

I don’t want DD to see me like this. I am her brave and strong mamma.  DH holds me, and I burst into tears — in his shoulders, trying desperately not to make any sound.

“It’s OK,” he says “You’re allowed to feel sad.” And I just can’t hold it any longer. I whimper like a baby.

DD’s taken aback. She’s crying too, now. “Why are you crying, mamma?”

DH releases me from his arms and gets me a glass of water. I gulp it down between sobs, finally able to catch my breath. I hug DD. “I’m sorry,” I say.

“Don’t be,” DH interrupts.

“Baby, Mamma’s upset because she misses her Thata, your Kollu Thata. He was her favorite,” he tells our daughter.

“But I am Mamma’s favorite,” DD sobs some more.

I smile and get her to sit on my lap. Her innocent remark makes me focus on my present.

“Mamma misses not being around him,” DH tries to explain.

“When you miss something, you need to find it,” DD says. “That’s how you find what’s missing.”

“But Kollu Thata is in India, baby,” I try to reason with her. “I know where he is. I just miss not being around him.”

“No, no,” DH interjects. “She’s right. You need to find what you’re missing. Then you won’t miss it anymore.”

It doesn’t make any sense to me. “Relive your memories with him. Tell us,” DH urges. “That way, you’ll feel closer to your granddad and we will get to know him better, especially since he’s had such a great influence on you.”

I’m not very sure. I feel talking about him would only make it more painful, would make me miss him a lot more.

“Yes Mamma, tell us,” DD urges.

DD does need to know about her great-grandfather, I think.

“Every summer vacation,” I start, “all of us cousins would go to Thata and Paati’s house. We would all have so much fun together. Thata would be the disciplinarian, and Paati would just spoil us silly. She would cook our favorite meals and we would fight over who’d get the largest portions.

“Our favorite food was curd rice with a side of sambaar (lentil soup). To end the fight, Thata would just make us all sit around him in a circle, mix the rice and curd in a large bowl, add a spoon of sambaar in each handful, and serve us  in our out stretched hands. It was like a community meal of sorts. But when we were all sitting around him waiting our turn, that simple meal would taste just divine. If any of us grabbed at him, we would miss the next turn.

“But Thata was always partial to me. He’d give me the biggest balls, and he’d always make sure that I got the last bite,” I remembered. “For some strange reason, the last bite always tastes good.”

“I want to try it,” DD shouts. “I want to eat, like how you did.”

“Let’s do it,” I declare, surprising myself.

“What do you mean?”  DH is surprised too.

“We have rice, we have curd, and we have sambaar,” I cry excitedly. “And coming to think of it, those meals, actually brought us cousins and Thata very close. And DD and you should experience it, too.”

It is a primitive experience for DH and DD, but it is a one-of-a –kind experience. I feel thrilled to share my childhood with my family and relive my bond with Thata. Memories come rushing back — a joke here, a hug there, Thata’s queer punishments (he made us write letters to our future selves on what we’d done), and his fight with Amma when she was cross with me.

“And I’d always thank Thata by giving him the biggest hug ever,” I laugh.

“Like this one, mamma?” DD hugs me and smiles with her curd moustache. “Yes.” I smile back. “Exactly like this.”


193Padmaja Ganeshan-Singh is a new expat from India and a rookie Superwoman. This is her first time managing her family without any help and boy, does she have newfound respect for the American woman. She is the mother of a high-energy preschooler who presents her with the challenges of preserving the culture of her homeland while embracing the culture of her new home in Seattle. From driving on the 'right' side of the road to understanding the craze behind Halloween candy, Padmaja's trying to make meaning out of the madness around her. For a peep into her expat life, check her blog .

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