Finding Middle Ground

December 22, 2006

Author: Suhag Shukla

Source: Hindu American Foundation

Two young women are at a potluck dinner. One is a biologist, who happens to have brought her homemade naan, to the potluck, and the other is a professional chef. As they are getting acquainted, naturally being at a dinner party and one of them cooking for a living, food is the topic of conversation.

“My mother used to make the best naan back home,” said the biologist.

“I learned the technique for authentic naan back in culinary school,” replied the chef. “ Though I’ve never made it or eaten it for that matter, I know it’s a complex preparation. You must prepare and knead the dough in a particular way, otherwise it just doesn’t come out right.”

“Well, I never learned how to make it from my mom” expressed the biologist, “but I’ve managed to piece together my own recipe from what I remember her doing. I must admit I make a pretty tasty naan. Even my mother wouldn’t know the difference. Would you like to try some?”

“No thank,” stated the chef. “I’m on a gluten-free, low-carb diet.”

I conjure up this silly and improbable scene to illustrate a point; the point is that of the critical disconnect that I have found to exist between practicing Hindus who have their perceptions and perspectives of the tradition they practice and those who are commonly assumed to possess the adhikaar to define and represent Hinduism in the Western world. This gap stems from one person defining naan, as illustrated in the earlier scene, after having made and eaten it while the other defines it from her understanding of how naan is made without necessarily ever having made or tasted it. Arguably the science and technique behind a recipe is important, but so too is the flavor of the finished product. When no middle ground is found between these two approaches, we end up with an incomplete, inaccurate and often times offensive definition of terms.