Oct 15, 2008

Even More Lessons from the Family Sri

Lesson Six: Generosity

Mom: How many bags of spicy popcorn can I give you? Five?
Me: Sure.
Mom: If you say five, I will give you six.
Me: Uh, okay. "Five."
Mom: Okay.

When I got home, I had eight bags of popcorn.

This is part of Indian hospitality, to give more than is asked. The Tamil word for "enough," pothum, actually means, "I have to tell you to stop serving me now, so you'll only give me a little bit more." And if your hostess thinks you're not eating enough, be prepared for a sneak attack.

But I wonder if there isn't a deeper meaning for my mother. In our house, food has become the physical representation for her love. She demonstrates real anxiety when we're not stuffed after a hot, homemade meal. She bemoans my cooking skills (read: lack thereof) - if I can't make dinner, how can I show my (hypothetical) husband and children that I care?

When my mother was growing up and her family didn't have enough food for all ten children, the older siblings would give back their portions. "I'm not hungry," they would shout over the growling of their empty stomachs. "Give my portion to someone else." I cannot imagine the sadness and pride my grandmother must have felt, redistributing those meager meals. And all the while the girl who would become my mother was thinking,

Never again

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