Sohini Pillai


The pungent aroma of chicken vindaloo hits Supriya as soon as she enters the kitchen. She joins the hectic, unorganized line of hungry kids leading up to the kitchen counter where all the food is laid out, each item in a stainless steel tray. Supriya hears strains of vibrant Bollywood music mixed with the boisterous chatter of adults coming from the living room. The children grab paper plates and pile them high with rice, potato curry, moong dal, aloo gobi, and nan. Ranjani Sengupta, the hostess of the party that Supriya and her parents are attending, stands next to the counter. "Rishi! Take some more gobi - don't just take the aloo! Krishna, don’t touch that tray, it has meat in it." Ranjani's eldest daughter Tanisha has received early acceptance into Harvard, and this party is in her honor. She spots Supriya. "Supriya, aren’t you hungry? You have taken so little on your plate!" Supriya complies reluctantly. It is in the nature of Indian women to feed people as much as they possibly can.

Supriya has been going to at least one Indian party every month of her life since she was four weeks old. The guests at these parties are Indian but have very different backgrounds. Deva Singh, a Sikh from Punjab discusses India's chance at the Cricket World Cup with Ravi Chandy, a Christian from Kerela and Najmah Khan, a Muslim from Dehli. Supriya's family are Hindus from South India. The one common factor that unites all the guests is that they live in a country eight thousand miles away from their beloved, motherland which they miss very much. Meeting with friends every night, is part of the culture of India and these monthly parties remind them of those daily get-togethers. It is at these parties that Supriya sees her parents at their happiest.

On the way toward the basement where all the kids are eating, Supriya sees Tanisha surrounded by a number of people congratulating her on her success. They ask her what career she thinks she will pursue, what her GPA and SAT scores were. She spots her mother and father next to Tanisha and feels a pang of fear. She knows that her parents want her to go to an Ivy League college and pursue a respectable career in medicine, law, engineering, or business. Her parents, who are both doctors worked very hard to get to America. They expect Supriya to put the same effort into her schoolwork. She does fairly well in school and often makes honor roll. But that is not enough for her parents. The best grades, they tell her, she needs the best! They push her and push her. They want her to have a good life with a steady, dependable job. The truth is that they don't really know what Supriya wants to do with her life, and what she wants to do is write. To be an author or maybe a journalist. Writing has always come naturally to her and she can't picture anything else she would rather do. However, Supriya's career choices do not match up with those of her community. To be an author is a shaky career in their opinion. Who knows if you will make it or not? Still, Supriya hopes that her parents will come to accept her decision.

In a way, Supriya feels lucky that her parents aren't as strict as some of the other Indian parents she knows. For example, while her parents don't allow her to have a boyfriend, some Indian girls at her school are forbidden to even talk to boys. The other kids in Supriya's high school find the restrictions Indian parents put on their children amusing. She, like her Indian classmates, has an early curfew, isn't allowed to go to parties unless her parents have met the host, and can't meet up with her friends on school nights. Supriya has many friends who are not Indian. They come over, eat tandoori chicken and nan, and politely admire the paintings and statues in the living room. Her friends are very important to her, but at times she feels like her life has no similarities with theirs.

Her childhood was different from that of her friends. While they were at Girl Scouts and taking ballet and piano lessons, Supriya was at Indian School learning how to read and write Tamil, and at classical Indian dance class. She still takes the class. She didn't grow up eating macaroni and cheese, she never celebrated Easter or Thanksgiving. Her family never went to Disney World or Six Flags. Even now in high school, Supriya never goes to R rated movies or school football games. Her culture has shaped her into the person she is now. Does she regret not having the childhood of an average American child? Never. She is proud of her Indian heritage and feels proud to be part of such a deep and warm culture.

However Supriya does not think of herself as simply Indian. She does not think of herself as American, even though she was born and raised here. She loves America as much as she loves India, but cannot categorize herself as one or the other. Supriya is not Indian because she does not live in India and she does not have the traditional views and beliefs many Indians do. She is not American, because she has not experienced life in a way that an average American has. Most Indians view Supriya as American. Most non-Indians view Supriya as Indian. Which is she? Is there a category in which Supriya can write poetry and novels, eat macaroni and cheese, and still speak Tamil with her parents and watch the Bollywood movies she grew up with?


Copyright 2002-2006 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2006 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.