I was thinking about the stories we all grow up with. No matter where we spend our childhood, when we move to another part of the world we carry these stories with us and consciously or not, they make their way into the stories we write or tell our children. The folktales we listened to as kids or the stories that Grandfather always told at dinner seep into the world of the characters we create and soon we experience a wonderful fusion of cultures in which the bedtime stories a child might have heard in India merge with the stories of the Brothers Grimm. Thus we create new fairy tales for another generation. Almost every culture has some version of the knight in shining armour who saves the princess. Or the brave warrior girl who outwits the evil genius. And then there are all the mythologies. As a child growing up in Germany I devoured the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales. But I also loved the stories that my Bengali father told me and the comic books he bought me from which I learned about Hindu mythology. I grew up in a Muslim home, reading stories about Hindu deities, along with old German folktales. I lost myself in the Arabian Nights and listened to the bedtime stories that my Pakistani mother told me. Fantasy knows no boundaries and stories flow effortlessly across man-made borders. As writers, we are in a unique position. We can create characters and stories which reflect wonderful aspects of different cultures and enrich the literature of our times. And never has this been easier than now, when we can reach such a large audience so quickly and easily. I am grateful for the opportunity to share the stories that created such happy memories of my childhood.
I read an article today and it made me think about this: how much of our experiences as teenagers do we drag around with us through our adult lives? People who are bullied, emotionally and physically, often carry their scars well into adulthood. Some build a social network as adults so they feel supported, while others shy away from people they perceive to be part of a clique. How many of the choices we make as grown-ups are the result of emotional baggage from our high school years?We experience some of the most crucial turning points in our lives only after high school. Marriage, childbirth and career choice all play a major role in the kind of person we become. So, the big question is: are we doomed to be haunted by our teen angst forever or can we reinvent ourselves?
A couple of years ago we visited India with our daughters. For them it was the first time. For us it had been too many years. It’s funny how things that you took for granted acquire a sense of adventure when you do it with your children for the first time. When we were young it was common to buy snacks from the roadside vendors and eat it right there. One of my favourites was pani puri or gol gappa as it is called in some parts. This basically consists of crisp, hollow, deep-fried balls of dough that are filled with a spicy potato mixture. You get a few of these on a plate. Then you add spicy tamarind water and a chutney made with coriander, green chilies and mint. When you pop these in your mouth and bite down, there is the most delicious explosion of flavours. I have to say, that although I have enjoyed food from many cuisines, there is nothing quite like that initial burst of tartness, sweetness and spice that you experience when you eat pani puri. And it’s just not the same when you make it at home.
There’s something about standing in a crowd with your friends, waiting as the vendor fills your plate and hands it to you. In Mumbai we took our daughters to try it, thinking that they might find it strange, but they absolutely loved it. Of course, the “street vendor” we went to was actually an air-conditioned shop, although this particular one also had a man doling out the stuff from behind a cart on the lower level. And I must admit, they tasted better from the cart than they did when we ordered them and ate at our table. So, do our fond childhood memories actually enhance the taste of a favourite food when we eat it again after many years?