Collected by Esha Kher

My friend Neha Kumar, who’s also my floor-mate at Commons North dorms, shared a story about her mother and her plants. I went over to her room one day, and I saw a potted Aloe Vera cactus in there. As a dormer, it was the first time that I saw someone have an actual plant in their room. This started the conversation between us when she shared about how this plant makes her room more ‘homely’ and is a constant reminder of her mom. 

Neha’s mom has plants all around her house and she treats them like her little babies. She would walk around the house watering them and talking to them. Her mom’s favorite are the money plants. Neha talked about a big money plant that sits at her door (whose leaves she said were twice the size of my face) and it’s become so deep rooted in the walls that it kind of scares her that it would take over the house (hehe). But it’s there because it’s her mom’s favorite. The money plant is considered to bring financial prosperity to a household in many different cultures, including the Indian culture to which Neha’s family belongs. 

Her dad is also a fan of gardening and thus for Neha and her family, gardening is a family ritual that helps strengthen their bond. Her parents were both born and raised in India and back home they both had gardens that they maintained. And now, they share all their knowledge and passion for gardening with Neha and her brother. Neha remembers most of her summers helping out her parents in the garden, planting new flowers and veggies for the season. The sunflowers she planted are her favorite and it fascinated her how some seeds she planted grew into such a big plant.

Neha’s family backyard is filled with vegetables and herbs. One of the plants that they plant the most is the mint. In the India culture, mint is used to make a typical Indian sauce that goes with almost all Indian dishes. It’s called the ‘pudina chutney’. There is one thing that you’ll always find at Neha’s house, and that’s Pudina Chutney. I have to admit, I’m very tempted to go over to her place and get some. Being an Indian myself, I love Pudina Chutney. Neha also likes experimenting different drinks by adding mint to them (reminds me of a good virgin mojito).  Her family also has tomatoes and chillies growing in their backyard. They tried planting squash, but the Chicago climate wasn’t appropriate for it, so unfortunately the plant died. They also grow fenugreek, or ‘methi’ as it’s called in India. Fenugreek is a slightly bitter tasting green leafy vegetable that is very popular in Indian dishes. Neha’s favorites (and mine too) are ‘methi parathas’ made with fresh methi from her garden. 

Her family also tries to play a part in environmental sustainability, and so instead of using planters, they use old recycling bins to plant all their garden veggies. 

It was a pleasure for me to collect this story from my friend, Neha. I realized how well connected she is with her family and culture even though she has been born and raised in the US. Having being born and raised in India myself, I connected with Neha like just any other member of my culture. She has all the family values to her like every other Indian. It pleasures me to see her share a close bond with her family just like I share with my own.