“Where are you from?” A persistent question asked of most accented or vaguely foreign looking inhabitants of the US. Most answer obediently with Argentina or Ghana or, “my parents are from Sri Lanka.” But there is the occasional impertinent reply. An Egyptian-American with deep black sockets for eyes and olive skin responding, “I’m from Detroit” leaves the interlocutor thwarted and a bit frustrated. “You know what I mean. Where are you originally from?” or some variant, and then another parry, and yet another inquiry about her parents or her name or her gorgeous eyes.
The problem lies with the question. What’s really being asked is, “What’s your story?” The answer isn’t Detroit. But nor would Egypt be a satisfying response. We’re looking for stories to connect what we see and hear to what we don’t know about a new acquaintance. My standard answer is, “The skin is from India. The accent is from Chicago.” That’s at least an opener. But India and Chicago aren’t yet stories. They are place markers. They say nothing of the sugarcane fields of my parents’ youth, or the pilgrimages to Palitana, a Jain temple on a mountain in the dust of Saurashtra, or the mill in my mother’s basement where she grinds her own dal and rice to make dhoklas.
HUSH is about storytellers and their stories. Join us every Tuesday for a new tale. Next Tuesday, we will begin at the beginning. Namely, the state of Gujarat and the story of a shepherd turned child prince willing to try anything put on his thali (plate).