My informant, AS, is a 19-year-old Indian male who grew up in Mumbai, though he has lived in Southern California for the past three years. His family is Muslim, and he has also had lots of interaction with Hindu culture also. This piece was collected during a facetime call, when I asked him to share some traditions that he has noticed as different between his home culture in India and the US. I refer to myself as SW in the text.
AS: “So, it is tradition, not just for Indian Muslims but for any Indian, to gift desserts to the people they know, when something good happens to them. Like if I get a new job, it’s gonna be tradition for me to send like a box of sweets to my neighbor, my aunt, my uncle, my friend. It’s just a tradition.”
SW: “So when something good happens to you… then you send stuff to other people.”
AS: Yes… Not just stuff, I have to send like, some sort of dessert.
SW: To how many other people?
AS: That just depends on like… if like, you’re really close with your neighbor you could send it to your neighbor, if you’re not close you’re not obligated to send anything. But like, it could be, just ya know your close family, or it could be the whole fucking world, depends on how close you are with them.
SW: But why do people do it?
AS: I don’t know why they do it, it’s just a thing like the… the saying is like ‘making your mouth sweet,’ that’s what it’s called. Like if you, something good happens to you, it could be anything it could be getting a new job or ya know, getting engaged or something like that. Even getting a promotion or buying a new car.
SW: That’s the reverse of the American thing. Cause the American thing is you send gifts to the person who had something good happen.
AS: Yeah. No, the person to whom it happens has to send. Not gifts, dessert.
SW: I guess like… that’s a way of showing status, right? Cause if something good happens to you, then it’s like well I now have excess to give… would be a way of showing status right?
AS: Not necessarily, no. It’s a… it’s more to do with sharing the joy. Not showing off.
SW: What kinda desserts? What are we talking here?
AS: Mostly Indian desserts. That’s the tradition.
SW: Like what?
AS: Like… the most common one is (he showed me a picture of kaju katri or kaju katli). That is my favorite fucking dessert. It’s uh… it’s just a sweet. It’s made from like… ground cashews, and you make, like… I don’t know how it’s made it just tastes really nice.
SW: It looks very good.
AS: Yeah so you get boxes of those, boxes of like, brown balls of fucking sugary flour…
SW: So is like, Indian culture more focused on like… ties between, like family and friends than American culture is? It feels like everything is more…
AS: Ties between family, yes. Like, your… there’s a lot of emphasis on family in Indian culture. Especially Indian Hindu culture, there’s a lot of focus on family and traditions.
As AS mentioned, the tradition of gifting desserts serves to reinforce family ties and important social relationships. Indian culture places a very high importance on these social bonds, especially between family members, and it is therefore important to have traditions and rituals to remind people of these bonds and their obligations to one another. There is probably also an element of reciprocity that is established – since you are sharing your joy, you can expect other people to also share with you.