Every family has their secrets. Some are the pink elephants of traumas, tragedies or other unspeakable tales. Some are the revered ones, such as traditional knowledge or crafts, that are guarded like the family jewels, passed carefully from one generation to the next. In the rich depository of such ancestral inheritance, what I considered exceptionally valuable, was a recipe for mango pickle.
Sounds innocuous, but if you had ever tasted this delicious sun-dried, spicy mango delight at my grandmother’s, you would understand. It seemed unlikely that any other preparation could ever match that taste. After her demise, my uncle took over. As he got older, the preparation became my sister’s responsibility. An essential requirement is the stark, dry heat of Nagpur or Nasik. In my mind, this is how I rationalized the difference in taste from the other Maharashtrian pickles available in Mumbai. That and of course, the exceptional ‘family recipe‘. To me it was as precious as the traditional medicine for jaundice that is passed on in a cousin’s family. Or as notable as the anecdotes about another ancestor’s medical prowess. It was unique, and our own special inheritance.
A couple of years ago, I happened to be in Hyderabad for some work. Our hosts were kind enough to take us out for a sampling of the local thali meal. I cannot describe my shock at finding ‘my’ pickle in my plate. I was even more stunned to discover that this was the popular Aavakaya pickle. Every Andhra household prepares this and my friends were confused and surprised at my excited reaction. A couple of them offered to bring me homemade bottles, as most of them had it at their homes. I was humbled and delighted, all at the same time. I now had easy and limitless access to this delicacy.
But the irony was not lost on me. Despite having a liking for spicy food and having sampled many pickles, I had not ‘discovered’ that what the younger family had assumed ownership over was actually a given in a far larger collective. The rich variety and diversity of food and culture in India does make familiarity with all foods near impossible to the lay person. (I have no idea how a South Indian recipe became a staple part of my centrally located grandmother’s recipes.)
But how easily we become proud and possessive of something that actually belongs to the whole world.
Just because of our ignorance. Because of our limited knowledge and experience.
When one applies this across other subjects, the gravity of the repercussion is self evident and significant. We debate over ideas and beliefs, one region against another, one religion against another, one nation against another. Vociferously, righteously clinging to our claim over what are often universal truths and planetary gifts that we mistakenly believe we own exclusively. Only because we view them from some historical, blinkered perspective, often relying on mythical memories to back our version of things. Makes me wonder, how much of the rigidity and conflict would dissolve – if we began to respect how much we all have in common and that we have simply failed to see – nothing is ours alone.
The same also applies to what we consider our unique failings and challenges. In Marathi, we have a saying, “Gharo Ghari matichya chuli“. What it implies is that every household that you visit, essentially faces the same challenges.
In a conversation about plagiarism, I heard that some people deliberately do not attribute credit to the original source whose quotes or teaching they share. Because if they have subsequently lived it, they feel that they can now ‘own’ it.
Perhaps eventually, we will come to realize that all roads lead home and far enough down these roads – all paths are one.