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Hold the turkey...here comes India.

By Kamal Zubieta


Four perfectly turbaned men danced bhangra in a synchronized circle on Thanksgiving evening, with toddlers running across the dance floor simultaneously, a mother nursing her infant in the coatroom, and about two hundred guests cheering them on while also savoring murg makhani (butter chicken) and naan. In an Indian family like mine, anything marriage trumps all.

Only two weeks before, I had delighted in the arrival of my new dining table, as my husband, two daughters, and I were to host my married sister’s family, parents, and brother for Thanksgiving in our New Jersey home. My mother would make her chatpatta (sweet and spicy) cranberry chutney, with green chilies and ginger, and my suegra (mother-in-law) in Chile had already e-mailed me her aunt’s recipe for salsa del pavo. Not a fan of American turkey gravy, I had hesitatingly agreed to eat the Chilean version two Christmases ago in Santiago, and the contrasting flavors of oranges, apples, garlic, and cognac both surprised and enchanted me.

Alas my Mama Ji (maternal uncle) from Washington DC then called to tell me he had just agreed to marry his daughter to a fine British Sikh man. Because of limited banquet hall availability during the holiday season, the engagement party was set for Thanksgiving. My Indian-Chilean-American Thanksgiving would have to wait. The engagement party hardly disappointed. Radiant in a light pink-orange lengha (two-piece gown), my cousin entered the banquet hall with an entourage of admiring girlfriends and other single female cousins. Her fiancé’s mother proceeded to place a chuni (long scarf) over her head and dressed her with a decadent gold necklace and earrings, signifying her family’s approval of the match. The families then danced all night to Punjabi bhangra and gidda music.

Always aware of the American sentiments of their US-born children though, my Mama Ji and his wife decided they would cook a traditional American turkey dinner on Friday. If the precedence of marriage activities is the first rule of Indian families, too much fabulous food, obscene numbers of people, and starting get-togethers at IST (Indian standard time) are not far behind. With seventeen pounds of turkey, more than fifty family members and friends, Thanksgiving a day late would be perfect, especially starting at nine in the evening.

Though the older Sikh generation laughed and joked in Punjabi, the younger Sikh generation and their Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Sikh spouses; born in Kenya, UK, US, Canada, and Chile; bonded in English. My cousin basked in the glow of her rock; the rest just reveled in the mixed company. To complete the circle of the long weekend, my Mama Ji brought out champagne and cake to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of my Masi (maternal aunt) and her husband.


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