Becoming Desi Gothic: Nuances of a Backyard Garden

desi gothic
desi gothic

I never imagined my city-raised Indian husband would put his sweat equity towards a backyard vegetable patch in suburban Atlanta amidst a global pandemic. It made us acutely aware of who we were becoming — Desi Gothic.

My husband is a New Delhi born architect, and I am a Mumbai born indie author and food writer. I live and work from our suburban Atlanta home, whereas he super-commutes to his workplace in California, being home only for a few days each month.

Our life has confounded many: We are a South Asian couple with atypical careers and an unconventional family life. For a good part of fourteen years, we have been the only South Asian family in a mostly white neighborhood. When quarantines kept my husband home in Atlanta in March 2020, we decided to self-quarantine, and seek out ways to be self-reliant.

As immigrants who came to the US as students in the mid-’90s, both my husband and I knew how to cook. Our familiarity with exchange rates had fine-tuned our resourcefulness or jugaad. Although we didn’t only eat Indian food, by the third week of quarantine, our refrigerator was bare of favorite Indian dishes made with fresh ‘Indian’ vegetables that weren’t cauliflower, cabbage, okra, spinach, or eggplant.

[Read Related: The Last of One BG’s Portland Diaries: The City is Gardens Galore

We quickly became aware that our neighborhood stores were poorly stocked of fresh ethnic produce, and the CSA’s (Community Supported/Sourced Agriculture) and produce delivery services weren’t reliable. We missed the many varieties of soft-skinned gourds, baby eggplants, sword beans and pole beans, fresh Fenugreek leaves or Amaranth greens, and more. We missed the taste of ‘back home’ – i.e. India, with meals where fresh fruit and produce layered with personal blends of spices could otherwise anchor us with sweet reminders of family far away, of wishful hopes to visit them, of embraces that would have made all of this bearable.

We explored pandemic-focused food groups for inspiration. They revealed what different folks valued most: cooking at home, missing eating out, their CSA’s, bread flour, wine, baking pies, recognizing shortcomings of basic life skills like cooking, bemoaning the many civil liberties we all once took for granted. It also laid out the range of class-privileges and divergent interpretations of quarantine-living.

Self-reliance is subjective —determined by socio-economics and is deeply cultural. The varied definitions of self-reliance and identity exposed in the time of a pandemic are telling of who we are as a people, as a community, and as a nation. And yet, the world would have us believe otherwise. Although we are in 2020, mainstream food publications, celebrities and brands continue to culturally appropriate and/or undervalue identities of people of color and either limit visibility of their cuisine or of the individuals themselves. These entities continue to exotify ethnic cuisines, but ironically, ethnic produce is near-impossible to find in conventional grocery stores. These acts reinforce the whitewashing of ethnicities. Such willful omissions routinely ignore, suppress and stifle the voices and stories that otherwise belong to people of color.

[Read Related: Book Review: Reflections on South Asian Culture Through ‘Hygge’]

Hailing the resurgence of ‘Victory Gardens’ without fully acknowledging those who cultivate the land regardless of scale, people of color who claim space in their own backyards and in community gardens, but most importantly, their underlying vulnerabilities are nothing short of repugnant. The plight of farmers of color being left out of the federal government’s PPP and CFAP relief programs relief funds is heartbreaking. Such exclusions are cyclical, systemic, repetitive and incestuous. The lingering enervation of witnessing our ethnic foods, culture and cuisine being routinely, systematically and incessantly bastardized – yet not mainstream enough to be included has become wearisome.  

History bears witness that people of color and immigrants of color like us are often ignored, shunned, ridiculed and attacked if they raise their voices to protect civil liberties, freedoms and identities. We often can’t call out blatant racial hatred and crimes against us because we don’t look a certain way. We aren’t allowed the ‘privilege’ of being included, recognized, or honored. Instead, our stories are frequently and conveniently adapted and retold; our existence, and lives made available for the taking.

Rather than condone omissions and forgive these deliberate acts of exclusion and erasure, my husband and I elected to divert our physical and emotional energies and sweat equity towards claiming space and growing our own Indian vegetables, at least for now. This garden was us silently affirming our presence.

It wasn’t easy to source seeds or live plants of Indian vegetables. With limited means, our challenges highlighted the cultural disconnect. Friends suggested specialized sources, and within two weekends, we had a modest but bare raised vegetable bed and several orders in the mail.

I waited for onions, peppers, eggplants, seeds of classic Indian greens, gourds, beans and strawberries to arrive. When the seeds, bulbs, runners and live plants finally came, I rushed to plant them. While planting them hunched over our new beds, I recalled many summers of being on my parents’ small family farm outside Mumbai — growing, harvesting and selling fresh farm produce like mangoes, eggplants, varieties of gourds and onion braids out of bamboo baskets to passers-by. The recompense of my childhood labor wasn’t the few rupees I earned then or the tasty meals that transformed unsold produce into delicacies, but the profound richness of life experience — repaid as enduring appreciation, and an affirmation of cultural identity confidently emerging in my adulthood.

[Read Related: Opinion Piece: What’s in a Name, of an Indian Dish?]

Three weeks in, the black patch of mud was transforming with shots of green. Each morning, I saw my husband’s salt and pepper locks leaning over the vegetable patch, checking the progress. Like farmers everywhere, we waited for the rain and rejoiced when it did. He grew up a city boy and had never had such an opportunity before. I shared his anticipation of growing familiar vegetables that reminded us of the flavors of “back home.”


Two months in, and with nothing ready for harvest, our small vegetable patch continues to rise slowly under a garland of Tibetan prayer flags suspended mid-air between two tall trees. It is guarded against hungry rabbits by an ultrasonic barrier, emitting invisible beats, like our emotions. Everything here: the plants, their colors, their fragrances, anticipation of flavors and the emotional intent – makes it a place of introspection and reflection for us. As the greens emerge through, I can only imagine celebrating our first “harvest” with a garden portrait, with the vegetable patch and our home in the background, our version of a ‘Desi Gothic’ portrait. Like its inspiration, American Gothic, ours would include an unlikely couple in the foreground: two brown people with unconventional jobs, smiling through the questions, posed in conventional expressions of portraiture.

I hope to collect other portraits like ours – to inspire a conversation about perceptions of homes, gardens, and lives of brown and colored people, especially in the American South. Much like the vegetables we chose for our patch – a blend of here and there, those that are culturally special and unique to us, our “Desi Gothic” would pose an altered question: “Should we be asking what the people who live in these houses should look like?” And while we wait for a harvest worth photographing, our vegetable patch will have connected us to the two lands: where we are in America, and the one we are separated from, in India. We, and our summers, will never be the same again.

The opinions expressed by the writer of this piece, and those providing comments thereon (collectively, the “Writers”), are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any of its employees, directors, officers, affiliates, or assigns (collectively, “BGM”). BGM is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Writers. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you have a complaint about this content, please email us at This post is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
By Nandita Godbole

Nandita is an Indian origin, Atlanta-based proudly indie author, food writer, consultant and podcaster. She is as much a proponent … Read more ›

5 Indo Caribbean Food Experts you Need to Know This Winter Season

trinidad curry
Curried Chicken with Roti Parata or Roti, popular Middle Eastern/Indian cuisine

It is officially that time of year—the holiday season. There’s nothing like Christmas and New Year’s in the West Indies. Between the pepperpot in Guyana and the palm trees decorated in lights in Trinidad, the home food, warm weather and laid-back ambiance makes us wish we could escape the cold and head back to the Caribbean. Most of us, however, cannot “take holiday” and find ourselves hungry for fresh dhal puri and doubles. But, thanks to these Indo-Caribbean food bloggers, we can bring the motherland to our kitchens.

1. Matthew’s Guyanese Cooking

From Diwali mithai specialties to curry chicken, Matthew is creating a name for himself as a young Guyanese food blogger. He makes a great effort to incorporate Hindu holidays and traditions on his Instagram account, in conjunction with the customary foods and sweets associated with these religious events. However, his expertise does not end there, with new and alternative recipes for classic dishes such as curry chicken and bhara, Matthew takes center stage sharing both traditional Guyanese dishes as well as specific religious dishes made for festivals. His most popular YouTube video, with 1.4 million views, features his grandmother and focuses on the best tips to make the softest Guyanese paratha roti. In addition, his YouTube account is home to many videos offering guidance to Indo Caribbean cooking. Find recipes at

2. Trini Cooking with Natasha

Natasha Laggan of Trini Cooking with Natasha is wildly popular throughout the Caribbean and the U.S. With humble beginnings, Natasha credits her love of food to her family’s business. She speaks of the nostalgia home food provides her as she reminisces memories of her grandmother’s cooking and helping her mother make sandwiches early in the morning. Featured by Forbes, Natasha grew her Facebook following quickly throughout the pandemic by posting old YouTube videos. Today, she has more than 1 million followers on Facebook and over 200K followers on YouTube. She uses her passion for cooking and Trinidadian culture to bring easy-to-follow recipes to viewers. Her following has now reached the West Indian diaspora globally as she has also become a brand ambassador to two well-known food companies.  Follow the food expert @trinicookingwithnatasha.

[Read Related: 5 Indo-Caribbean Recipes for the Holiday Season you Have to Make]

3. Cooking with Ria

With over 100K followers on YouTube, Ria is quite the expert when it comes to making roti. Her dhal puri, sada roti and paratha roti tutorials have over 1M views! However, her expertise does not stop there. Of the 180 YouTube tutorials, her recipes vary from curry to other Trinidadian favorites like macaroni pie and pigtail soup. Just scrolling through her YouTube page makes your mouth water. From doubles to classic Trinidad bakes like pound cake and sweet bread, she provides precision and anecdotal commentary while guiding you through the familiarity of home food. Check out Ria’s page at @cookingwithria.


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4. Chef Devan

Known as Chef Devan, Devan Rajkumar embraces his Guyanese Canadian heritage by creating recipes combining flavors of both the East and West Indies. His love of food has allowed him to expand his role to judge in a popular Canadian cooking show: Food Network Canada’s Fire Masters. His cooking often blends the flavors of multiple cultures but also creates the classic recipes of his motherland. With a multitude of interests, Chef Dev uses his social media platform to connect with followers by sharing various aspects of his life that go beyond cooking. His most recent YouTube video provides a trailer for an upcoming video “Tastes Guyana” which shows him exploring Guyana from the inside, specifically deep parts of the inner country. To learn more about Chef Devan follow @chefdevan.


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5. Taste of Trinbago

Reshmi is the chef behind the growing blog, Taste of Trinbago. A Trinidadian native who now resides in Texas, she uses her love of food and Trinidadian culture to share hacks, tips and easy recipes with West Indians throughout the globe. She finds a way to simplify traditional West Indian meals, that we once watched our elders make with curiosity.  From holiday specialties like black cake to Diwali delicacies, Reshmi has brought vegetarian and non-veg recipes to followers in an extremely accessible way. She even posts recipe cards on her IG highlights for followers who may need written instructions. Her IG profile is a mix of various West Indian foods while also sharing bits of her life and even her secrets to baby food. Follow her @tasteoftrinbago.


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These are just five Indo Caribbean food bloggers sharing their secrets to easy cooking. The once very daunting recipes and food instructions our parents gave have been simplified by most of these bloggers through video, voice over and modernized recipes. We no longer have to estimate a “dash, pinch or tuk” of any masala. We are just days away from Christmas and this is the perfect time to find the best-suited recipe to make that paratha for Santa.

Featured Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

By Subrina Singh

Subrina Singh holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Asian & Asian American Studies from Stony Brook University and a Master’s Degree … Read more ›