The potluck was a shimmering event in my uneventful life as a stay-at-home spouse. I finally had a purpose.
At long last, the email announcing the potluck popped up on my phone. The chance to showcase my talent to a roomful of H1B visa holders was nigh.
In house parties that I attended in Mumbai, my friends and I — all employed at elite advertising agencies — would discuss our bosses and celebrities with disdain. But I was single then. In the USA, my conversation topics changed from, “Which font to use for a particular annual festival banner?” to “Which vegetable should I cook today?”
The potluck was a shimmering event in my uneventful life as a stay-at-home spouse. I finally had a purpose. In our group of five women, all had boyfriends and husbands, save one. The expert on potlucks. The expert (aka my rival) and the host started a Facebook group asking everyone to list the dishes they planned to avoid confusion. The big ticket items, like chicken curry and dessert, were snatched up quickly. Since I was proficient in desserts, I was shattered. I had to juggle fast, otherwise I was going to miss my turn in the limelight!
So, I aggressively brainstormed with my husband, who watched my new found nervous excitement with bewilderment. Men don’t fully get their wives in arranged marriages. In any event, we finally settled on samosas and bhindi masala as our contribution to the potluck. Since I had exceptional practice making these items at home, I was going to shine.
On the day of the event, we dressed up in our finest Indian clothing. I couldn’t make myself wear a saree. I stared at it long and hard, but since I had no practice, I wasn’t taking any chances for fear of ruining my image. I wore a comfortable salwar suit and put on some lovely glittering jewellery and took off with my husband in tow.
The Diwali potluck was well attended. The five women and their other halves engaged in small talk. The food was laid on the table. The game of Taboo began and the women demonstrated exceptional flair, compared to the men. We shared familiar giggles and warm connections with friends. In my non-working H4 immigration status, this annual potluck group was the best set of acquaintances I had.
As the boys guzzled on beer, the women slid into the kitchen to warm up the food. The aromas were breath-taking. My heart sank when I saw the oil-drenched chicken curry; I knew it was going to be the evening’s hit. The potluck expert was going to be heralded again as the queen. thought to myself, “It’s just so easy for some people to pour oodles of oil in food, just to elevate the taste.” I rolled my eyes and turned to warming the rotis.
Soon the dishes were laid out and the men headed to the cornucopia. I transfixed one eye on the bhindi masala and the other on the chicken curry. I even sat closer to the bhindi, just to protect it from sliding off the edge.
The women seemed to thoroughly relish the dishes and complimented each other on the preparations. I heard someone ask the recipe for the chicken curry. I winced. In my head, I answered, “It’s all oil, darling.”
The men took turns dishing themselves and immersed in chatter about their IT jobs, the problem of parking tickets and accidents on the Interstate. I had given up all hope of anyone enjoying the dish that I had so meticulously prepared, and slinked off into the living room.
Then I heard the magic words, “Is the bhindi over?”
My eyes danced. I don’t think anyone noticed. Even more astonishingly, the man asking this gem of a question was a non-vegetarian. I returned, in turn docile and apologetic that regrettably the bhindi masala was indeed out. A small firework went kaboom in my stomach. As I approached the table with curious eyes, I could see someone cleaning the bhindi masala plate, while the chicken curry begged for attention.
A wave of triumph passed over me. My eyes moistened.
I couldn’t believe that a girl who had single-handedly delivered a power presentation to one of the top water purifier companies back in India was fighting back tears at being appreciated for a dish she had cooked for H1B holders, who likely couldn’t fathom the significance of their praise.
The fleeting memory of the water purifier presentation and the promotion that had followed made me smile. I trotted the room with a renewed sense of pride and victory.
The potluck had become my new podium. Dishes were my new Powerpoint, with the potential of garnering me recognition and fame in Indian H1B living rooms across America.