It is only appropriate that I have no memory of my first journey to Siliguri—I have no memory of my journey to this world either. I make this equivalence without sentimentality—I have lived here, in this small sub-Himalayan Indian town, for most of my life. And even when I haven’t, I’ve been aware of its grainy centripetal force. I was three—I trust my parents, particularly my statistician father, on this. My brother was one—which means he didn’t actually exist, except in the laps of our parents. Three days after arriving from Balurghat, I left home.
The US of A finally stamped its visa in my black pocketbook. Jazz fusion played in my ear, songs from an album fittingly titled This Meets That. I floated out of the document collection center in Nehru Place, New Delhi.
Ramesh Thakur had three houses—one in Defence Colony, one in R.K. Puram, and one in Malviya Nagar. But he was not happy.
“So much dusting, Chandar. I go to each house once a week. I dust, I dust. The sofas, the tables, the mantelpiece. I do not forget anything.
“But it is hard work, Chandar. It is not easy.”
But still I was happy for him. He was retired, he needed something to do. This kept him busy. He had three houses: there was security in that. He had some place to go three days a week: this kept him busy, there was security in that as well.
This is how my mother tells it. Jesse Owens taught her to run. I am thirteen. I have just come back from track practice. I have no skill at anything athletic. But junior high for me has been a series of attempts to assimilate. That year in the yearbook, there isn’t a club I’m not in—Chess Club, Stamp Collecting, French Club, Honors Society—and because track is the only sport you do not have to try out for, they’ll take anyone, I sit in the front row of the photo, a dark spot in the expanse of white faces.
My relationship with Joni Mitchell and her music moves through two stages. My early admiration for her—in the seventies—in some ways anticipated the zeitgeist. Then I stopped listening to her for about a quarter of a century. I began to rediscover Mitchell’s work in the new millennium, when, by coincidence, so was the rest of the world.
From the kitchen of Bijoya Chaudhuri Handed down to her son, Amit Chaudhuri
Author’s note: I grew up in Bombay on my mother’s magnificent
version of East Bengali food, a cuisine reinterpreted and perfected—and often
added to with original recipes—by my grandmother in Sylhet and then my
mother in her decades in Bombay. The recipe below is included in my mother’s
Bengali cookbook, published in Calcutta in 2010, and translated recently by
Chitralekha Basu. But this is not a dish that represents East Bengali food; it
comes out of our contact with Bombay, and is not only my mother’s version of
a well-known Parsi dish: it is her response to my craving for it. Its main feature
is the chutney in its name, made with coriander and mint leaves and coconut
pulp: the seaweed-green condiment is one of the most delicious to be found in
the Konkan region, imported, here by the Parsis, and then by an East Bengali.
From the kitchen of Nirmala Swamidoss McConigley Handed down to her daughter, Nina McConigley
1 cup of red lentils (washed well)
3–4 cups water
2 tbsp oil
6–7 cloves garlic (cut in two)
1/4 tsp asafetida (sometimes called hing), you get this at Indian stores
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tomato (add at the end)
Salt to taste
Fresh cilantro for garnish
I am constantly asked why I persist in calling my city Bombay when it has long been renamed Mumbai. A rather articulate but annoying French academic even attributed inherent anarchy to my dissension. “If everyone called cities by the names they preferred, how would anyone know where they are?” I opted out of the argument. I would know. I would always know. With my eyes wide shut. Mumbai may be a zip code, but Bombay is my home.