- In the arms of a glowing Andaman ocean, our Thanksgiving table was overflowing with fresh cornucopia. We ate everything slowly with deep gratitude.
Being of Indian extraction, it is ingrained in us to offer thanks for the food. When we came to America, I noticed that people did not honor food in the same way. People overloaded their plates. Ate everything quickly, without really tasting it. Food wastage was rampant.
As per the Vedas, we should eat food after praying to Mother Earth and the farmers for their harvest. Also, each morsel of food we move towards our mouth is being observed carefully by all living creatures in the cosmos. So we have to consume consciously.
There was another fact about food and hospitality that struck me in America. In our eastern tradition, guests are representatives of the divine and they are welcomed with great alacrity and joy. The custom of offering chai or “thanda” when guests arrive is ingrained in us from childhood.
Over the years, when we invite our Caucasian friends to our humble abodes we go all out to clean, refresh, and perfume the air in our homes. We light lamps at the altar and lay out our best flatware. Every request of the guest is met with attention to detail.
People are excited to taste Indian spices, condiments, and sweets but before they eat—they smell our food. In India, this was not done, but perhaps we were used to the aroma of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, bay leaf, saffron, and peppercorns. It was part of our body. Our soul. A reverberating essence of our being.
In America, I invite neighbors and friends to my house and they appreciate Indian curries, pickles, and parathas. The popular sweets included Gulab Jamun and Jalebi because they come closest to the Caucasian palate.
As I made more friends I was invited to their places for their traditional Thanksgiving celebrations and I adopted the American tradition of bringing side dishes. I brought sautéed cauliflower, a salad, and samosas. Being vegetarian I never got accustomed to ham, turkey, stuffing, or casseroles because they were all cooked with animal products and in the South with lard left over from frying bacon.
Our friends did not make any accommodations to adjust the food to cater to vegetarians. They cooked for their family and plied us with breads and desserts. We were grateful for the potluck because at least we could eat our own fare—if there was any left over for us.
Over the last decades, we have used this three-day Thanksgiving weekend to travel to India or catch up with family in Europe. It’s nice to have an extra day to travel. This time we met our extended family in Thailand and India. We celebrated a beautiful wedding, artisanal food, and Thai hospitality.
In the arms of a glowing Andaman ocean, our Thanksgiving table was overflowing with fresh cornucopia. We ate everything slowly with deep gratitude. Tasting every flavor and concoction. Banana roti, khichadi with extra ginger, lemon grass Tom yum soup, morning glory florets on jasmine rice, tamarind goli, bhel, pista kulfi, rose faluda, gulukand paan.
This delicious fare was washed down with sweet tender coconut water. In every morsel, I could see the faces of my parents wreathed in smiles. Their ebullient spirit floated around us as lemon and black butterflies.
We played Antakshari, sang silly limericks, indulged in massages, and had rounds upon rounds of laughter. The vision of my grandson trying his first soft-serve ice cream cone brought me childhood nostalgia. The morning and evening light upon us painted the waters of the wrap-around pool like a Monet waterlily painting.
We thought of the Native Americans who might have welcomed the White pilgrims at one time from a foreign land laying out a harvest table for them to enjoy. Replete with yams, cranberry sauce and game cooked to perfection. But as the visiting pilgrims surveyed the riches of the Americas, they became greedy. Native American hospitality was adopted but they were not.
These are my thoughts about Thanksgiving. As the sun set, we sent a prayer for Native American ancient heritage and did calligraphy in the sand on the most picturesque place — Bamboo Island beach. Our words were washed away but perhaps my prayers will echo into the universe for eons to come.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, and essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are “My Light Reflections” and “ Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM and the Princess Theater.