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Avakayi on Idlewild Street

11 June 2013

The heavy knife that came out every year for cutting straight through the hefty pit of the mango, aptly called the “tanka” is one of my oldest memories of life in West Lafayette, Indiana where we tried to keep just as we learned to make pizza from a Chef Boyardee mix.

We used to drive four hours to Chicago to get Indian groceries, while hearing stories from immigrants of earlier generations talk about ordering from Indian vendors in London. The catalogue would come in the mail, with lists of products and cloth samples of saris. They would place their order and send a money order to London. A month or two later, the products would arrive.

Today we make pizza from scratch, and still bring out the heavy cutlery when it’s time to chop the mangoes.

Avakayi from scratch may become one of the lost arts a generation from now. It is easier than it seems, but for someone who grew up thinking I was earning my cultural points by eating avakayi, it did not occur to me that I was supposed to make it, too.

Taking full advantage of my generations sense of entitlement to homemade avakayi without making ourselves, came a whole bunch of “Swagruha Food” or “own-home” food shops that sold avakayi and other pachhadis by the kilo, and even offered “Abroad Packing.” This basically consisted of packing in a triple layer of plastic bags which were heat sealed.

Without hesitation I ordered 20 kilos and packed it in a cardboard box for my next trip abroad.

Imagine my shock and devastation at BWI airport when they threw the entire lot away, lock, stock and barrel.

It did not pass customs. They mango pieces were too big, they said. They had reasons, we had no right to question, and no avakayi to comfort us in our misery.  I did not dare to carry avakayi again, even though other people told me stories of brining in avakayi with no problem, even sending it in the mail. They even threw out my organic brown rice.

Things sure have changed since 1983 when we carried avakayi back in steel dabbas which leaked by the time we got home, but nonetheless came home with us. Not only that, one of our bags was missing and the airlines had to deliver it to us, which they did, leaky oil and all.

Last time I came they specifically asked if I had mango pickle. While I was waiting at baggage claim a dog came over sniffing so the officer looked at my hand bags as well. All they found were some peanuts. I had had a banana in the same bag earlier, so that smell may have remained. “Peanuts are okay,” she said.

Gee thanks.

Back to ordering mangos and making it all ourselves. We’ll have to write it down this time.


From → Culture

One Comment
  1. 😦 Vile… no excuse for this. I am sorry this happened to you.
    I am of Scott/Irish/Native American stock. Growing up I was immensely blessed to be exposed to a HUGE and varied ethnic palette and friends of various nationalities. It has given rise to a love of Indian foods, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, etc., with Indian being a favorite. I often drive 40 plus miles to have the chance to purchase ingredients for Indian inspired dishes. I can’t imagine your chagrin with this having happened….

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