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Good Indian Girl, Sort Of: Anjali Mehta

Photo Credit: Tina Hsu

Your Name: Anjali Mehta

I currently reside in: Milpitas, CA

My favorite hangout in Milpitas: Most probably the library—it’s beautiful architecturally, has great natural lighting, and even though it’s quiet, there is a lot of movement happening making screen breaks fun (also helps to get my creative juices flowing). 

My current job: I’m fortunate to have two jobs—one that pays the bills and one that feeds my soul. 

The job that pays the bills: I’m a Development Manager for a nonprofit coffee company that provides job-training to refugees so they can be Specialty Coffee Baristas as a way to pursue economic dignity. 

The job that feeds my soul: Starting and building my own company, Amma’s Cooking Company (which officially opened for business on August 4). 

I do this because: What I love about my bill-paying job is the social nature of the job—not only do I get to speak with countless people from different cultural backgrounds, most importantly I get to learn from them. I feel like I’m in a position to really connect people to their communities and if in the process they want to make a financial contribution to the organization, then sweet!

In terms of my soul-feeding job—ever since Ma introduced me to the art of cooking, I’ve been doing something or the other in the kitchen…about 20 years of tinkering. I’ve never aspired to be a professional level chef, but as I built my confidence in the kitchen, I realized my passion for cooking and sharing food within my social circle (my roommates are lucky cats!). 

Then it was Anne-Marie, my bestie, who planted the seed of Amma’s Cooking Company. Over the years, she’s enjoyed what I’ve made for her and her family, as have so many friends. With that in mind, how cool would it be if my friends could make the Gujarati (and sometimes continental Indian) dishes I’ve made for them, by themselves?! And why limit it to just my friends, why not make it available to anyone who wants to learn…I hope that my cooking class participants (whether or not they grew up Gujarati) get to taste a little bit of my childhood and build confidence in the kitchen by learning to cook the way our mothers and grandmothers nourished their families. 

Some Indian traditions you still follow: I don’t have a large South Asian social circle, so my implementation is a bit lacking, but my intentions are 100%. Navaratri, Diwali, and Holi—my favorite festivals from childhood. Growing up I loved Raas, especially how the dhol inspired movement, not to mention how we honor nine forms of female power. Lighting diyas and making marigold garlands from our small garden for Diwali and Bestu Varas. And being completely drenched with Holi colors as we all celebrate the beginning of spring. Maybe when I make more South Asian friends and my parents move closer to me, I’ll again pick up celebrating my favorite festivals. Though I HAVE been enjoying giving my gora brother-in-law the silliest rakhis that I can find!

Bollywood or Hollywood, and why? Both. Growing up, I’d watch any film with Amitabh Bachchan or Salman Khan. But as I got older and was able to understand the gender roles and inequities Bollywood was perpetuating, I slowly began to reject it. I didn’t watch a Bollywood film for about five years (or more), which was huge for me, because growing up in small-town America, Bollywood was the closest thing I had to seeing people who looked like me. When Taare Zameen Par came out in 2007 is when I slowly started to re-engage with Bollywood. They were, again, making films that mattered, not just entertainment or time-pass movies with objectifying dialogue and songs. 

Hollywood was easily accessible to us, especially going to our local Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, or independent movie rental place. I was a huge Julia Roberts fan and absolutely loved her in Pretty Woman and Erin Brockovich. I loved her confidence. It gave me pause of whether I could ever have the kind of confidence she had in those roles, especially as an Indian woman. As an adult, I can confidently say YES!

Favorite movie?  I feel my two all-time favorite films are: Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchili and Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. Both are such simple, but complex films, where emotions are expressed through the eyes, not words. Regardless of how old the films are, they’ve really shaped my perspective of what kind of human I want to be—kind, empathetic, courageous, and just.

My favorite thing about Indian culture: It’s hard to narrow down to just one thing. But aside from receiving Diwali mithai from Ma (I mean who doesn’t love eating ghooghra, mohanthal, and toprapak?!), I think it’s exploring my Indian identity before our colonizers came and…colonized. I may not be explaining my sentiments articulately, so my forgiveness in advance. 

Something that I’ve been reflecting on is, men and women had roles in Indian society (Vedic time), but, to me, it didn’t feel like women were less than men. They were treated as equals. Women balanced men out and vice versa. People were allowed to pursue their identities, be it straight, homosexual, or transgender. After all, we honor and celebrate female strength and power during Navaratri and Diwali. 

As I sit with these feelings and thoughts, I’m trying to understand how I can be a better role model to our younger generations and break the cycle of how we’ve viewed, objectified, and dismissed women (our colonizer’s approach to women). 

One piece of advice your parents have given you that you’re abiding:
From Dad: Not letting anyone peer-pressure me into doing something that goes against my personal values and being okay with the rejection that comes with it.  From Ma: Being kind and not settling down for the sake of settling down. 

Good Indian Girl?  It depends on how you want to define it, but I’ll go with “Sort Of,” because I believe: the darker I am, the more beautiful I am; women and men are equals; love is love, regardless of gender identities; I’ll eat as much food as I want to, without judgment; wearing make-up and heels doesn’t define my beauty; and happiness over income, always.  

You can follow Anjali and Amma’s Cooking Company on Instagram, Facebook, or visit the website.  

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