“You have American friends! It is OK for Indians to be friends with Americans?”
Pattu is at the kitchen island sipping warm milk with honey when she makes a statement that is posed as a question. Thrown for a loop, I wonder why she is pontificating on deep questions early in the morning. It takes a moment and I realize she is talking about a book club I hosted the past evening. All evening as I set the sofas and arranged food on a side table, Ammu and Pattu went up and down, carrying stuff for me and jumped on the foam tri-folds in excitement. As the door bell rang and friend after friend arrived bearing bottles of wine and hearty smiles, they beamed in approval.
I turn to her and say, “Of course, Indians can be friends with Americans, Africans and other Indians,” I try to cover as many bases as I can. “I have friends from Russia, Africa and Europe,” I say. I look at her trying to gauge what she is thinking. She seems relieved. I let out the breath I am holding as well.
Sitting on a single seater with A.R.Rahman’s music filling the room, I feed pieces of the soft, spongy dosa on my plate to Laddu. She clambers on me and slides down, making a game of it. Pattu’s question haunts me. Not the question but the approval she seemed to be seeking that it was OK for people of different races to be friends.
The topic of race comes up often couched as Indians and Americans. They are often references to stereotypes I have no memory of enforcing. I gently disabuse notions I feel are troublesome, hoping some of these conversations will embed themselves in their psyche.
Yet, today morning brought home to me like no other that I need to model the behaviors I want to see in them. It is one thing to talk about race and compassion and empathy and another to model them. I look back on the past fifteen years and realize I can count the number of non-Indian friends I have. People whose lives I am part of. People who feature in regular conversations at home.
Discussing Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” yesterday, conversation eventually meandered to life and its purpose. “What if we do not find our calling?” asked one friend. More than one of us were quick to point out that all of us have purpose in this life. My mind went back to another moment from the previous week when Ammu brought back a birthday book filled with a page she filled out about herself along with notes from her classmates on what they thought of her. Along with her love for pasta, was an innocuous answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “I want to be mom”
It was not “I want to be a mom.” I sat for a long time that night marveling at the amount of influence I seem to have on my children. I remember thinking as I went to bed that perhaps this was my calling in life, to raise the children I call my own to be the best humans they can be. It occurs to me in aspiring for that, I first have to be the best human I can be.