“I was born in India but spent several of my younger years in Nigeria. I was packed off to study in Rishi Valley, which is a boarding school near Madanapalle. I studied music there until the 10th. But then when my parents emigrated to Toronto—I followed, and it was as a college student at U of T that I discovered Anthropology. Here was a subject that allowed me to take my own cultural traditions seriously, to find out the why of the things we did, and to understand cultural practices by their own logics. It was both grounding and liberating at the same time.
I went on to do my PhD in anthropology at Rice University in Houston. My thesis (which later became my first book) was on women’s activism and political Hinduism. I never really researched food, though I taught a class on it at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, where I was on the faculty. We moved to Pondicherry in 2008 and food became a way both to remember our American life and to put down roots in Indian soil. I started a blog called Paticheri – a portmanteau of the French “patisserie” and the Tamil “cheri,” chezhundu vaazhum idam: the place where people live together. It took me a long time to find my voice on this blog, I was so busy with kids and work, but when I did, everything converged on understanding Indian food as not just a series of dishes but as a way of classifying and categorizing the edible world. It was a whole worldview. Many Indians and particularly poorer communities still have a knowledge of how things grow, wild ingredients and their properties, how to cook and live through changing seasons—all this is endlessly fascinating for me. I wanted to re-learn these native tongues, and really speak them.
It has been a fascinating journey, discovering how food stiches together kitchen chemistry and farming practices, with history, philosophy, myth and legend. I relish the way food opens up not just sensory experience, but also such wide thinking explorations. If there is one thing I’d like people to take away from what I do, it’s not ever to lose that depth of our traditional knowledge systems and cultivate a robust curiosity about the how and why of our food systems. You’ll discover a lot that’s gone wrong, but also a lot that’s very right, attuned to nature, conscious, sensitive, ethical, deeply philosophical. These are things that make us unique as a culture and can sustain us far into this century, as few other things can.”
#anthropology #explore #food #research #passion #journey #discovery #farming #philosophy #culture #lifelessons #madras #humansofmadras