Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

09 Nov 2010, 13:20 p.m.

I Nom, Yet I'm Aware Of The Ironic Ramifications Of My Nomming

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2010 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Today's xkcd made me laugh aloud with glee. Thanks, Randall. (Especially funny if you've read Ted Chiang's sorrowful & lucid "Division By Zero".)

My three tasks for today:

  1. Call videographer for Nandini's wedding.
  2. Some moneychanging (not at a temple; reasonable precaution, no?).
  3. Edit some of the English from a wedding brochure Dad wrote, so we can use it at Nandini's wedding. (Each attendee of weddings Dad performed got a copy, listing the Sanskrit verses and explaining the ceremony in English. The prose needs proofreading & modernizing, because my dad had a tendency to use words like "oblations" and phrasings like "The groom ties an auspicious necklace, pre-blessed by the elders".)

Oh yay, Ed Felten as FTC CTO! Also congrats to Joan Walsh on her new book project and Stormy Peters on her new role at Mozilla.

Am eating comfort food recently, viz., non-Indian food. At the moment I'm snacking on a "Space Food Stick," peanut-butter flavor, I bought at the Air & Space Museum gift shop when Leonard & I were in Washington, D.C. in October. Earlier today: Clif Bar. Yesterday for dinner I went to Pearl, a Thai/Chinese/Indian/other restaurant (also on the menu: stroganoff). In some sense I simultaneously went to a chicken place (separate menu) that shares Pearl's waiters and dining space (and possibly cooks?); the waiter gave us menus from both restaurants, and the fries I ordered from King Chicken ended up on the same bill as the tom yum, wontons, etc. that I ordered from Pearl. I feel as though I partook of a thought experiment on identity, like the story about the replacement of the timbers of a boat. Well, better that than Dining Philosophers.

I discovered that Pearl exists last week, when Mom and I went to the Pizza Hut across the street. (What does it say about me that baby corn as a pizza topping no longer sounds weird?) Mom didn't want me to go to Pearl alone (non-Kannada-speaking tourist heading to an unfamiliar part of Mysore after dark, understandable) so we enlisted the twentysomething accountant from across the street. His mom is friends with my mom; they and another neighbor hang out a little every night, which depending on your temperament you either find a lovely or bone-chilling idea.

When we got to Pearl, my chaperone suggested I order for both of us, since he'd never had Thai food before. I realized as we ate the tom yum that South Indian cooking doesn't really do standalone soups; my mom would see this and want to pair it with idli, or stir some rice in. Indeed, once I got home, my mom asked: what did you have?

"We had soup, battered and fried ladies' fingers, chili and potato, french fries, noodles, wontons -- those are like tempura, or pakoras -- I think that's it."

"OK, but did you have anything solid?"

"What?!" I came back from putting leftovers in the fridge (I'd ordered way too much) and came to her room to ensure I'd heard correctly. I had. She said soup was fine and all but had I had anything solid? Rice or bread?

"Mom, this is why South Indians get diabetes, because we think every meal has to have a lot of starch. I had plenty of solid food! [sigh] And I had noodles. Noodles are starch." I think she would have quieted at my ferocity nonetheless, but she nodded at the noodles. "OK."

Also at Pearl I saw a white guy with a non-Indian-Asian woman and frickin' went to their table to say hi just because I suddenly hoped they were American and wanted to hear an American voice. Jackpot! For context: I see on average four white people a week, excluding time I spend in museums and at other tourist attractions. In the rickshaw on the way to Pearl, I'd seen a white woman driving a van. I can't recall ever seeing someone white in a driver's seat here in India, and I immediately wanted to know her story. The white people I see are usually wearing some variant on local dress. These folks were wearing Western-style clothes! I may be imagining but I remember the guy wearing a black fleece like Scott Rosenberg's!

Oh, the thrill I felt when I heard the dude greet me with his Californian-accented "hi." I asked how their Kannada was coming along and he made some travesty of "illa" ("no" or "don't have") and I threw my head back and laughed. I guess I might count as a short-term expat?

dinner at Pearl While eating Thai soup and Chinese dishes and fries (nearly all of which my chaperone liked, yay), eating off china and drinking water from a glass instead of seeing my reflection in stainless steel thalis and tumblers, hearing random American pop, I felt consciously relaxed and at home. Then I cringed, cultural imperialist American, inflicting my homesickness on the native culture, wielding my money and insouciance like swords.

After dinner, we visited the Western-style supermarket downstairs and I got instant noodles, peanut butter, deodorant, and some magazines. Big selection, multiple cashiers, one of whom scanned barcodes to ring me up and gave me a computer-printout receipt. So normal-feeling that I didn't particularly feel happy or at peace; I just noticed, much later, how unremarkable everything had felt, how comfortable and myself I had felt.

I've spent enough time in my comfort zone today, writing this, reading Strange Horizons fiction. Time to get to those three TODOs.


09 Nov 2010, 11:13 a.m.

Wow, your expat food talk is making me hungry. Also, I really like the idea of an Auspicious Necklace. It sounds like a D&D magical item.

Zed Lopez
09 Nov 2010, 14:37 p.m.

I think your Strange Horizons reading may have made you say Ken Liu when you meant Ted Chiang.

Sumana Harihareswara
09 Nov 2010, 21:22 p.m.

Thanks for the correction, Zed. I actually blame Thoughtcrime Experiments because there's a Ted Chiang connection to the Ken Liu story in there. Will fix.