"She tells me in India people consider movies . . . glorified Technicolor dreams, a means of uplifting themselves . . . a comforting escape from the everyday routine." Thus Sunya Malhotra, the protagonist in "Pastries," shares her Indian mother's observation on the power and magic of cinema. "Pastries," Bharti Kirchner's first-person novel, is witty, sensitive, and not overwhelmingly profound, much like popular Indian cinema. This is Kirchner's fourth novel and her eighth book (the first four were cookbooks). Born in India, Kirchner worked as a systems software engineer before shifting gears into writing.
I often find myself mired in thought comparing and contrasting my new life in the United States to my life in India. Recollections and epiphanies come to me during mundane dinners, at supermarket checkout counters — even during spiritual discourses. Each month I struggle to do justice to my position as a reluctant and informal ambassador, hoping fervently that as I vocalize my observations about both cultures I also reawaken and clarify my rather murky sense of self and identity.
One afternoon, when I was a teenager growing up in India, my mother beckoned me to watch Oprah on cable. Oprah was profiling couples of Asian descent who had been raised in America but nonetheless entered into traditional arranged marriages. While the audience gaped, a husband beamed indulgently as his new wife shared how she was still discovering things about her husband each day even after being married for a few months. Thousands of miles away, I shook my head and thought, “I am never going to let this happen to me!”
My early years as an immigrant Silicon Valley bride were spent something like this—eleven months a year, prepare, pray, and long for an India trip. Twelfth month: drink up family-time in India. Repeat. Then a few years into our marriage, something magical happened—we got our in-house supply of ten little fingers and ten little toes. As a family we still longed for India, but no longer did I seek that twelfth month with unbridled ferocity. Our satellite family had morphed into a full fledged planet of its own.
I see them each day with unfailing regularity. Taking a walk. Using grocery shopping as a welcome excuse to change their surroundings and move out of the confines of their homes. I have christened them my “sari aunties” and “kurta uncles,” given their sartorial predilections. Sometimes they look at me and smile, and though there is no reason to feel that way, I see a certain welcome in their eyes that’s absent in the innumerable smiles I have received till now.
The only thing certain about life is death; and death comes in various forms. With the advances in medical science new diseases are discovered and old ones conquered. Among the numerous intractable modern diseases is heart disease, which creeps upon the unsuspecting victim. A great deal of research is being done on this “gift” of modern day stresses, and much of it focuses on specific segments of the population.
On 26 Jan. 2001, while most of India celebrated its Republic Day and sover-eignty, an oft-ignored force rocked, shook, and pushed celebration into sorrow. The biggest earthquake in Indian history in the past 50 years ravaged Gujarat, leaving 25,000 people dead (moderate estimates), innumerable families broken, and damaging historical monuments like the Salam Singh Ki Haveli and Hawa Pol (Gate of Wind) in Jaisalmer among others.
It is said that in any aspect of life, the difference between the numbers one and zero is greater than the difference between the numbers two and one; nowhere is it as clearly illustrated as in the case of education, where a little bit can go a long way in improving the quality of life.
For someone who wields such cultural power, the soft-spoken Anup Jalota appears to have stumbled into his overwhelming success by accident. Clearly Jalota’s soft voice and gentle looks belie his drive and passion to carve out an ever-increasing pie for bhajans (devotional songs) in the music market. Jalota is one of the most celebrated non-film artists in Indian music; his 100 platinum discs have long surpassed Elvis Presley’s record of 45 gold and platinum discs.
The other day I was reading a piece in the local newspaper written by an Indian woman, who’s an émigré to the U.S. She was describing her first couple of years in the U.S, the culture shock, and the adjustments that she had had to make in her new surroundings. What set me thinking was her conclusion that she had now finally come to feel at home in her adopted land. It was a sensitive and humorous piece, yet the conclusion left me feeling unsettled. Is it that simple?