Learn to love yourself, your background, and your story fully.
It’s taken me a decade to understand my mother’s biggest annoyance around Diwali: people who pretend to be health conscious. If you are dealing with an illness or don’t enjoy anything sweet or are watchful of what you put in your body or avoid fried foods and sugar, this isn’t about you. My issue (and my mom’s) is with people who are embarrassed to connect with their Indian roots. These are the same folks who have a drink after they return home from work. They munch on cookies and donuts there, probably never saying no to Western desserts at gatherings. But come Diwali or other Indian holidays, they say, “We don’t eat mithai. We are very health-conscious.” The same people can be spotted stuffing their faces with cheesecake and pies on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I am not saying white sugar is your friend. In fact, I avoid it on most days. I don’t care whether it’s in rasogolla or brownies. But mithai is integral to Indian culture. For desis in general, no ceremony, festival, or occasion can feel complete without it. Recipes are passed down generations and people also have their favorite corner mithai ki dukaan that they buy from. Even in NYC, I go to a store bordering Long Island for my Diwali and Rakhi bulk mithai shopping. Their quality, taste, and love remains unaltered over the years.
No matter who is observing Diwali, the holiday celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Mithais are offered to the Gods and during puja. They are distributed amongst family, friends, networks, communities, and anyone else in people’s lives. They represent happiness, celebration, auspiciousness, and prosperity. It’s a big part of India’s heritage too. It’s a way to thank the universe for keeping us alive, healthy, and financially afloat for one more year.
Many of these mithais have healing benefits and are rooted in Ayurveda? For example, chawal ki kheer builds ojas (immunity), reduces inflammation, and improves gut health. But that’s for another day. What’s at stake here is people’s discomfort with associating with anything Indian, and their obsession with perceptions that, somehow, Western desserts make them look cooler and socially acceptable.
I understand that the British Raj did a number on us and that many people are still affected by the remnants of colonialism. I was in my first year of college when I took an overnight train alone from Mumbai to New Delhi. It was the Rajdhani Express, two-tier AC, which meant it was a decent crowd for a girl to explore solo traveling. When the server came to take our dinner order, the family in front of me (mom, dad, and their daughter a few years older than me) said they wanted continental, non-vegetarian. The girl had a heavy British accent and said she found Indian food very spicy. The curious storyteller in me wanted to know what and where she was studying in the U.K. Turns out, the girl had applied to the U.K. for a master’s degree.
Why do you have an accent, I asked. At 17, we are silly and brave enough to ask what’s top of mind.
Apparently, she picked up her accent from the British Council Library in anticipation of pursuing higher studies in the U.K.
I am told that spicy food releases endorphins and dopamine, but I am not focused on my brain at dinner to release happy hormones. That’s why I exercise. What I mean is that I don’t enjoy very spicy foods either, but that’s because my body and taste buds can’t handle them.
But this girl gave up Indian curries and spices to fit into the U.K. crowd sometime in the future – if she got admission. If I still remember the story after 20+ years as if it happened yesterday, I know it will take you a minute to process it.
Here is my point: There is joy in experimenting with other cuisines and cultures while respecting your own lineage. When you try too hard to adapt to other cultures and run away from your own, it signals you are uncomfortable and conscious about where you come from. It’s a telltale sign of low self-esteem. When you don’t love yourself completely, you are disrespectful towards others. You show up to life with a scarcity and unevolved mindset. For instance, the people who chomp away on cupcakes and tell you they don’t eat kheer because it’s unhealthy, that’s hypocrisy. People who say they hate sugar but always get a serving of non-Indian dessert at dinner parties are hypocrites. People who feel the need to put down Indian mithai or food or anything desi, are dealing with their own insecurities.
In case you are wondering, what’s at stake here is your mental and emotional health. How do you think career, health, and relationships work out for people who are inauthentic? If you want to lower your stress and get out of the way of your own happiness, learn to love yourself, your background, and your story fully.
“Happiness depends on your mindset and attitude.” ~ Roy T. Bennett