Timepass: Embracing Comforts From my Tamil-American Home

I definitely think it’s cliche to say you need to see what you have with a new lens during difficult times.

But that doesn’t make it any less true.

I really felt it over the winter holidays when I visited my hometown. I drove around savoring morsels of pandemic-free memories from my mundane suburban upbringing before the premature sunset sent me back home in the late afternoon.

In those drab low-light hours at home, though, I got to take part in what’s become my family’s newest ritual of the past few years: simply talking, laughing and catching up over some black coffee on our L-shaped couch.

Our couch chats would follow a similar cadence each time. I’d start things off by updating my parents on the latest with me. My mom would chime in with her own takes on the news of the day. And no matter how the conversation would go, goaded or not, my dad would unfailingly find space for a story from his “Boston days” in the early ‘90s. These stories were on rotation, and would always be one of a set five. 

His offering this time around was a retelling of the time his buddy and neighbor, nervously anticipating his driver’s license exam, drove his old Corolla right through their apartment building’s pool complex on the way to the DMV, to which he never made it that day. The humor in the retelling was distinct, a homage to the Tamil comedy clips my parents watched every night back when cable was in vogue. In between the booming laughter, I held my cup of tea and had a moment of active appreciation. 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Varshika Singh (@cookwithvarshika)

This moment of thankfulness for my family’s Tanglish (Tamil-English hybrid) discourse, jokes and South Indian lens on American life was not dramatic or fanfare-worthy. It was quiet and calm; its beauty simply being the rarity of unbridled positivity and promise. Maybe I can call it peace.

As a pandemic graduate, I return to my supposedly adult life with some disappointment at having to cook for myself and muster up a second job’s worth of energy to tame my anxieties about surviving an uncertain world.

There are fewer opportunities to stumble around and let life work its magic on my adultification, fewer faces around to laugh (and often cry) with. But as I confront these things while pulling up the latest on COVID-19 vaccines and epidemiologist predictions, I find it tremendously healing to think back on and recreate my family couch chats, familiar Tamil jokes and other childhood memories that ground me in a sense of peace. 

Fond reflection slows the moment for me and opens up a part of me that I don’t often get to express in my high-pressure, tireless pursuit of the second-gen American Dream. To get time back in my life and have a chance to reflect that comes so naturally, without diving into yet another self-help book or ten-pronged theory of self-improvement— this is timepass

One of the greatest sensory experiences I’ll probably ever have is Sunday mornings at home. When I was younger, I used to wake up to the smell of crackling thaalichi kottal, fried lentils and seeds in ghee, and the faint punctuated speak of a newscaster on SunTV in the background. The closer I’d creep downstairs, the better I could hear my parents, who would usually be sitting on the couch with their kaapi and chatting. Sometimes my mom would be on the phone laughing away with her siblings in India as A.R. Rahman’s “Vande Maataram” boomed on our too-small TV set. When I would greet her in the morning and ask her who she was talking to, she’d say “Maama,” referring to my uncle in India. “Why?” I’d ask. On a Sunday morning, the answer was always a shrug and “timepass thaan.” 

Timepass was always the sign of leisure and peace — there’s that word again— a good joke, maybe some snacks. It’s a unique talent of my mom and the aunties that would feed me as I shuttled from house to house, especially when they’d get together and chat for hours in the name of simply… timepass.

This has been the aspirational standard for my sense of peace and happiness ever since, and it’s tied directly to my heritage, culture and identity as an Indian American. 

Timepass is a philosophy to me that lets me know things are okay. I’ve turned to it amid stressful seasons of work, lonely moments in my first “adult” apartment and carefree afternoons with friends alike.

When I feel down now, I blast my favorite Tamil movie songs or Bollywood clips, fish out some old murukku snacks from my pantry and make some kaapi, and ring my mom for no particular reason to continue her tradition of laughing way too loud over the phone. When the phone changes hands at home, I riff with my dad for a while, throwing out the odd Tamil phrase or joke here and there that I know only he can understand and appreciate. And when I’ve passed the time sufficiently, I end by asking for the tenth time what the measurements needed to make rasam are, my mom berating me for expecting her to give me a recipe with “tablespoons/gablespoons.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Hautes Cuisines (@hautescuisines)

I hang up with a smile and a decent recreation of that amazing scent of frying lentils from my childhood, this time in my own kitchen. 

Incorporating timepass on a day-to-day basis as an American twenty-something brings an acute awareness and respect for those pieces of my wellbeing that I draw from my South Indian culture and upbringing, and it’s central to my understanding of self.

In the massive vortex of Western notions of wellness (already heavily drawn from and cannibalizations of Eastern concepts) that surround me today, I’m elated and increasingly proud that my self-care routine IS timepass. I learned how to treat myself better by incorporating kaapi and leisure, bhajan and Bollywood music, curd rice and other home foods, regular calls with my mom for no real reason and the media I grew up on in my day-to-day.

Embracing timepass has absolutely changed my life and lifted me higher. Most importantly, it’s given me a home base of peace that fuels my venture into the unknown. 

By Adithi Iyer

Adithi is a policy consultant, writer-at-heart, and avid hobby in the Bay Area. Originally from Orange County, Adithi is a … Read more ›