On post-colonial shadow lines and having one’s 4th-of-July cooking blogged!

I don’t generally blog about my personal life here, although I’m sure it is reflected in some of my writing. I have to make an exception now, however, due to a rather unusual Fourth of July dinner we got invited to last evening. We got to hang out and swim with several friends, old and new, and their families, and savour a variety of delicious vegetarian foods from the grill and the frying pan.

You read that right, I did say vegetarian! That word in the invitation had already tipped us off that this was going to be something somewhat different: for the invitation came from our recent friend Samina, who happens to be a Muslim from Pakistan, with a rather interestingly mixed up subcontinental heritage. More on the heritage below, but first, whoever heard of a vegetarian barbecue for this great American holiday? And whoever thought there might be vegetarian muslims from Pakistan? And one who invites this carnivorous brahmin from India, to top it all?

As for Samina’s heritage, we learnt a bit about that from her mom and aunt who were also there for a short while, speaking to us in Bangla! For they hail from what used to be East Pakistan, and is now Bangladesh. But before that, they were actually from central India, where much of their family still is. Here was a family that had actually lived across the Shadow Lines, migrating from India to Bangladesh to Pakistan, to the US. Samina’s folks are rather more widely spread across the lines than my in-laws who also moved west across the border when Bengal was split in half by the British 61 years ago next month. So here we were, families from across the subcontinental divides of that carved up former colony, celebrating the anniversary of the occasion when yet another colonized people had thrown off the yoke of that same British empire… in what is now the hub of a neo-imperialist order (but let’s not go there now).

So we got to dust off some of our native tongues (speaking a heady subcontinental mix of Bangla, Urdu, Hindi, and English), and palates with some spicy desi food, in which I played a part. I like to cook, and have been known to get carried away recreating long-remembered flavors that are hard to come by even in these globalized distant shores. So yesterday, relishing the challenge of contributing something appropriate for a fourth-of-july barbecue meal, I naturally turned to my home-town’s popular street food, vada-pav, also known as Bombay’s answer to the burger, albeit one that has curiously remained local! To read more about the meal and even see pictures of my vada-pav (and of me wolfing one down) let me point you towards the foodie blog of a new friend we made at the dinner. Yes, for once, I wasn’t the only blogger at the party; and it was also good to meet another faculty member from Fresno State who blogs, among a party consisting largely of English professors from our campus – and us odd biologists!

Afterwards, we all wondered where the best place to see fireworks might be around Fresno, and dispersed without really seeing much. For such is this urban mosaic we live in here in central California, with its own shadow lines – a bunch of suburbs surrounding county islands still looking for that lost city center! And none of us knew of nor could see in the skies any evidence for any communal fireworks displays in this expanding suburban archipelago!! There were plenty of smaller, more anarchic/small family fireworks going on all over the town, however, as we drove back through somewhat smoky, and definitely rat-a-tat-tat noisy and perhaps dangerous streets. For that is the more typical use of fireworks in this area: we can all buy our own small-scale fireworks arsenals from roadside stands every June-July, and set them off all over the town, no doubt enhancing our already lovely air quality, but cannot seem to get our collective butts together to make a more spectacular city fireworks display (featuring more colorful-light than sound, and probably limiting the air quality impacts) happen. Such is the state of collective governance around here! So there we were, at the end of the evening, dodging bottle-rockets and weaving our way home through exploded, often still smoldering fireworks lined up along the edges of many smoke-filled residential streets, with flashes of light from explosions lighting up in cul-de-sacs, rather like some war-torn city elsewhere. Where else have I seen, and worried about, this before? Oh yes, during Diwali in Delhi (or every other town in India). Yet another odd blurring of the shadow lines this, a common experience from back home I had never expected to find here in California. But at least mine was a happier (if cough-filled) memory, of a popular festival, unlike Samina who has a hard time dealing with fireworks because of memories of the war she experienced as a child for Bangladesh’s liberation!

Small world! And Happy Independence Day to all the world’s formerly colonized peoples!!

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