Nina Mukerjee Furstenau on food and class in India @ Painted Bride Quarterly.
My first memories of trips to India while growing up are of my grandparents, a neighbor girl named Sweeti, and craggy faces of rickshaw drivers. Under these vivid mind pictures, though, is a feeling that loosens something under my sternum. It stems from the awe of seeing my father look taller, more vitally part of each meal, each conversation, like he returns to himself when we travel there, of watching my mother settle into an old routine that I had never seen. Laughter is relaxed, conversation fluid. I feel an easing of a tightly held tension I did not know we had. I am six and sitting on a black bus seat alone. My legs swing, almost kicking the back of the seat in front of me. The windows have a horizontal bar to slide them open or shut and there is a small wedge open at the top of mine. Ahead of me about five rows are the backs of the heads of my family: wispy hair, surprisingly gray for a 40ish father, flies about through streaks of sun slanting through the windows revealing glimpses of a smooth bald brown pate. This, the very top of my Baba, is a head and shoulders above the tidy bun sitting quietly on my mother’s neck and, stair-stepped down from her, is just the tip of my wavy-haired brother’s head. I lift my chin to watch as others leave the bus to buy papaya juice, a mango, or stroll around the small highway pull-off until the driver is ready to continue on the switchback road up, up, and nauseatingly up through the blue Nilgiri hills near Chennai. My stomach feels queasy from sickness, but I have been told to eat, hence my bully separateness from the rest of my family. I have a banana in my lap, the small brown Indian kind full of flavor, and have just finished a sandwich my mother packed this morning. A crowd has gathered around the bus and far below me I see a small child standing and looking straight into my eyes. He wears shorts and a buttoned shirt of some indeterminate khaki color and he seems to reach the elbows of the older children near him. No one else in the crowd looks at my window. His eyes stay steady though the crowd jostles him and the ragged hem of his shirt rucks up. I startle as I realize he has seen me eat the last bites of my bread. He has watched me swallow. I look at him more closely and see his hands are cupped. read more