The Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Langhorne, Pennsylvania

Langhorne, Pennsylvania

I spent the month of August in my parents’ house, living like a twenty-something college graduate in the room in the attic. My summer visits are often quiet, a time when I can recharge my battery to get through another school year.

My parents live in the country, head birds in an empty nest, my brother and sisters having long since moved out.

But this summer it was a full house.

My sister is transitioning between houses, so she and her two kids had been living there for about six months and were still living there when I visited. The second floor was occupied by my parents and the kids. My sister slept on the first floor.

It was the first time my sister and I had lived under the same roof in more than two decades. So I don’t know when she become obsessed with India, but a portion of my parents’ home is like stumbling into a Jaipurian Mahārāja’s den. Her bed sheets are a horoscope tapestry done up in sari stripes, two mobiles hang above the bed in which elephants dance in permanent repose under purple umbrellas. The bureau holds Mendhi candles and sandalwood representations of both Ganesha and an elephant.

My parents’ house is otherwise out of small town Americana. A stout, hundred year old country home with a wrap-around porch, wooden floors, and a dentist’s shingle on the lawn. A driveway runs back to a detached garage with a basketball net fixed on it and filled with bikes and wheelbarrows and gardening tools. And yet in the far reaches of the house, one might hear the instantly recognizable Thaats and scaled Swaras associated with Hindustani music. A visitor, if they hung around for twenty minutes or so, would certainly hear my sister let out a gripe or two about her need for Indian cuisine.

“I need to get some Indian food. It’s been too long.”

Some variety of this complaint was voiced every other day and when it was, I immediately snapped into sibling mockery mode. I would point out the fact that she’d lived for nearly 36 years without Indian food, another day wasn’t going to kill her. I might go on to make good-natured fun of her and, depending on her stubbornness, I might finally suggest that she shut her yap. She is unapologetic about her interests, so we’d often slip into a snipping argument that ended in laughter a minute or two later, thus proving that while we were both successful and professional adults, we would always be brother and sister.

My mother would join in on the ribbing depending on how annoyed she was with my sister’s hindiphilism at that time. If it had been a week of Indian gastronomical complaints or overhearing her say “namaste” to the confused Dunkin Donuts employees, then my mother would tell her to “go tell it to Ganesha.” More often than not, though, she’d shoot me a clandestine look of sardonic commiseration and let it go at that.

My dad rarely said anything; he just did logic in his head. If she wanted Indian food, there was a solid chance she’d get take out, and she’d bring that to the house, and since my sister has long had eyes bigger than her stomach, it could only mean lots of food. Food brought right to him in his own house. And so when she brought up Indian food, he kept his mouth closed and positioned himself at the kitchen table.

Still, I was impressed with their restraint.

I took a break from writing one afternoon, and moseying around the attic stumbled upon a bunch of boxes filled with my old stuff. I dug through them, suffering bouts of nostalgia. There were books and notebooks, backpacks, toys, and a bunch of other items dripping in memories. Sometimes that reminiscence was good and sometimes it elicited a wince of embarrassment. And then I found a Samurai sword.

If I needed a reminder about the three years I was dead set on being a ninja, this was it. The martial arts lessons. The clothing. The movies. The books. The begging for weapons as birthday gifts. The afternoon I spent flinging Chinese throwing stars into my wall. The beating I got for the afternoon I spent flinging Chinese throwing stars into my wall. It all came back.

After I had finished cringing, I better comprehended my parents’ restraint. I suppose they’d have had forty years’ worth of practice rolling with their kids’ quirky phases. All four of us went through weird phases, just like almost any other kids. My house has seen obsessive interest in Hebrew and Judaism, The Doors, the priesthood, M*A*S*H, martial arts. Therefore the house has resembled The Swamp, Yeshiva, a rectory, a dojo, and an opium den.

So my sister’s Hindi-obsession is nothing new, nor is its effect on the house. My parents, more than their restraint, probably enjoy the fact that their house resembles the Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It might bring back memories of when their nest was full of wacky kids with wacky interests. But surely, my sister and her kids will move out soon, and when they do the house will go back to being a stout Americana country house with detached garage and dental office.


  1. #1 by greg on September 8, 2016 - 6:30 pm

    good post Damo.

(will not be published)