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The Sweet Subtleties of Desi Culture

a close up of a coffee cup

Every year, my mom usually makes an Indian dessert called kheer for Diwali, the Desi festival of lights. Made with milk, sugar, spices, rice, and served pleasantly warm, kheer never fails to remind me of the coziness that can be found during the colder seasons around Diwali. Each year, we light diyas for each room, inviting the Goddess Lakshmi into our home and asking for her blessing for the coming year. The warm light of the diyas and the time spent with family in contrast to the cold outdoors only helps to cement the feeling that kheer gives me: the distinct feeling of home and comfort.

When I was younger, I used to sneak spoonfuls of sugar while my parents weren’t looking, but it was only recently that I realized this wasn’t a common experience; most people can’t stand the sweetness of pure sugar. See, in Indian culture, we eat sweets to celebrate just about anything, whether it be Diwali, Holi, Rakhi, a wedding, or even something as regular as a birthday. As such, I ended up developing a huge sweet tooth, and I never really thought about how it happened. Indian sweets have a distinct taste that often includes lots of pure sugary flavors, like the kheer that we eat for Holi and Diwali. And in November, when Diwali happens, we also eat little sugar and spice filled pastries called gujiya (though my family calls in padakia). For Rakhi, we eat ladoo. There’s also a really popular Indian street food called jalebi, a fried treat drenched in sugar syrup. Sometimes we eat gulab jamun, rasgulla, and kaju barfi as casual snacks on any regular day. Basically, we just really love our sweets, and it shows year-round through our traditions and holidays and the way we live day to day.

India is very diverse, and throughout the country, people celebrate the same holidays in many different ways. We have all sorts of dishes and desserts, as well as our traditions unique to each region. Though we may not speak the same language, nor be of the same religion, nor eat the same foods, we still bond over our love for sweet flavors no matter what. Indian sweets weave together ingredients commonly found in our foods to create a unique flavor that cannot be found in Western desserts. Through our sweets, we find a sense of community and togetherness that helps keep us connected.

Anika Sharan