To Reach for Almonds

Gia Patel, Podcast

Her hands were as red as a tomato, as she peeled the golden brown almonds that had just bathed in boiling water. She was sitting on the floor, next to the window leading to the deck, one leg straight out and one bent. Next to her lay a pile of almond skin, waiting to be disposed of. I sit next to her, in the same manner as she does, and begin to mimic her actions, attempting to help her out. I had just gotten out of the shower, hair dripping wet, leaving a trail of water droplets wherever I walked. Whenever I see my grandmother, I always question her journey, her life, and her experiences. I never had the courage to ask her any questions, because I always assumed that she would get annoyed. 

With my grandfather watching the Indian news in the background, I gained enough confidence to lean over and whisper to her, “How do you think your life would’ve been different if you didn’t live in India at the time you did?” She looked at me as if I had committed a crime, shook her head, and continued to peel the almonds.

After 5 minutes, she leaned back toward me and whispered back, “You would not be here, and I would hate life because of that.”

I was not sure if she had implied my existence in the world or my life in America. I had never heard my grandmother speak such kind and thoughtful words to anyone ever. She has a very sarcastic and commander-like personality. I can clearly see where I get that from. My father always says that I am more like my grandmother than my own mother, in terms of personality and height.


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You never realize how different the environment of a different country can be until you have stepped foot onto its streets. India is a beautiful country, with pockets of different cultures, religions, and poverty. A nation with a dark yellow filter that covers our vision, while America has a bright white filter. The way of life in India is unlike that of America, with a different schooling system, road system, vehicles, streets, architecture, and food. Street market vendors, selling cheap jewelry, lining up at their usual spots on the same street they’ve worked on every day for the past 10 years, just to make about 20 USD a day, while big shops, selling extravagant heavy sets of jewelry, work behind them in proper buildings, making 100x more a day. This contrasting lifestyle, with few able to care for themselves without working every day or their lives, makes India a unique and difficult place to live.


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“I never finished my secondary education. I finished 10th grade and never saw school again. I never had a dream of what I wanted to be, never knew what career I wanted to pursue. Back then, the only options girls had were to get married and become a housewife, or become a maid.” 

She continued to peel the almonds, not looking up for even a moment, even with the news of an Indian politician’s death buzzing behind her. 

“Living in a rural village did not have as many opportunities as you do today unless you had a lot of land and wealth. Many that lived in these villages have not seen the inside of a fast food restaurant or generic department store like we do today. My family was the in-between of wealthy and poor, sandwiched between.”


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Gujarat has numerous villages such as the one my grandmother had lived in before she married my grandfather. While at a family wedding in India this past break, the barat, the groom’s parade, left from a village school similar to that of my grandmother. There were no large buildings as we see in America. No air conditioning, no whiteboards or TVs, and no playground or lunch room. When we arrived, it was recess for the kids. Many had walked home for lunch, some sat on the dirt of the vacant square in front of the school, and few ignored the lunchboxes their mothers had struggled to make and attempted to shake some almonds off from the almond tree sitting alone in the square. Adjacent to the tiny 12-foot building, a 36-foot bungalow stood tall and proud. It must have been 4 times the width of the school or even more. It was unlike anything you would see in the rural area of America. With air conditioning, TVs, a playground, and a pool, the bungalow had everything. Many in the village looked to those bungalows, standing out amongst the small huts the people called home, and hoped that one day, they would see their name on the lease.


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The piles of almonds did not seem to lessen. My legs had cramped up and I moved to a chair while she stayed on the floor.

 “Baa, why don’t you come up to the table? Don’t your legs hurt?” 

She finally looks up at me with her almond-colored eyes, just like mine, and laughs. “Giu, I’m so used to this that I’ve learned to ignore the pain.” 

“Did you always cook the food yourself in India?” 

“I did mostly because I didn’t trust feeding your mom and aunt food from a stranger. Every child should eat from their mother’s hands”


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Food is a big part of Indian culture. Preparing Indian cuisine is a form of art itself. The taste changes depending on who is making it and their motivation. What would be a motivation to make food? Wouldn’t that just be to feed others and yourself? Yes, it would be, however, a roti from a caring mother’s hands would taste far better than one from a maid who doesn’t know you, or from a restaurant who doesn’t even know your name. 

Having a maid in India was not an unlikely phenomenon, especially among the wealthy. The more wealth you possessed, the less work you yourself would have to do around the house, and the more your maids would do. 

The lower classes would do everything themselves since many in these classes were maids, cooks, and chauffeurs that worked for the wealthy. They barely make a living with the low wages the parsimonious wealthy give them.

Either you were fed by a stranger, or by your caring mother’s hands. However, there was an in-between, a balance between the two. My aunt had lived with my baa’s brother and his wife when she was a child. The biggest issue she had was the difference between the food her aunt had made for her and the food that her mother had made. Her experience living with them was mainly based on the food and the environment. Her aunt had never truly cared for her, which is why my aunt never enjoyed her food. Whereas, my baa’s food was impeccable, showing her care no matter who ate it.


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The pile of unpeeled almonds had disappeared and what was left was a pile of peeled white almonds. She had struggled to get up from the floor on which she had been sitting for about an hour. She began to clean up all of the wet, golden brown peels that were scattered all over the floor. I got up as well, picking up all of the tiny peels that had somehow flown across the floor

The air was filled with silence, except for the chaotic bustling of my grandmother attempting to clean up as fast as she could as if she were being timed in a competition. My grandfather had moved to his room to watch the news on his phone instead. I realized that I never asked her what she was going to do with these unpeeled almonds.

“Baa, what are you going to make with these almonds?” She had made many sweets from almonds before with no written recipe, such as Badam Barfi, Badam Halwa, Badam Kheer, and many more, but only the memory of how her grandmother made them.

She responded, with her cheeks lifting up as her lips curled up into a soft smile, “I don’t know yet Giu. I’ll figure it out as I go. I always do.”