Madison Square Park has become a little piece of northern India today. All around us women’s chunnis, traditional scarves, swirl and flutter like bright tropical butterflies. Everywhere Roseline and I look there are turbans, chunnis, and balloons in the sacred saffron of the Sikh flag. We have worn our own salwar kameez, and here they do not stand out.
We look greedily around us, absorbing the sights, sounds and smells. We are enraptured and nostalgic. Delighted to be among a sea of Sikhs and experiencing a keen longing for the time we each spent in India.
We meander through the park, taking in musicians standing in loose groups, picnicking mothers whose children are too busy playing to eat, and the occasional bemused westerner turned foreigner in their own city. We catch the end of the parade, with the Council of Sikh Women delegation, the float proudly bearing a prophet’s face, and a spinning display of choreographed swordplay.
On another side of the park a flock of folding chairs are arranged in orderly rows. I am amused to see the clusters of people, bent intently over their plates of food or waiting for the rest of their group. It is a familiar scene, but I am used to seeing it in a wedding hall facing the bride and groom, rather than directed at a City of New York Parks and Recreation trailer. An official looking gentleman hands me a commemorative program, this is the parade’s 20th year. I flip through it, and seeing mostly Gurmukhi script decide to save it to send to my grandfather, who will be able to read it.
When I stop a family to ask where they got their “Sikh Pride” tee-shirts, the father shakes his head and says, “Not here.” I wonder if he’s considering why I am so eager to know, I, who with my short brown hair and olive skin that are not quite dark enough for a full-blooded Punjabi do not quite fit in, even here. But he does not say anything else, and everyone seems happy to heap my plate high with plump samosas, the spinach dish saag, and chole, a chickpea curry. Smiling men press cups of mango lassi on us. Roseline laughs at me when I accept a whole plate of sticky sweet jalebis, asking if I really like them. “They are better fresh,” I admit. It’s more the memory of my aunties swirling ribbons of the rosy dough into oil and ladling one out for me to eat before the big wedding party. We finally find kulfi, the ice cream that Roseline is craving. The food is comforting, it’s just right. Like what my great-aunts would serve at a family gathering. It is my kind of Indian food. Amid these strangers in New York, I feel unexpectedly like I am among my family.