Hyphenated Identities: Meenakshi Mohan

Dr. Meenakshi Mohan is an educator, art critic, children’s writer, painter, and poet.  She has taught at universities in Chicago, Boston, and, more recently, for Towson University in Maryland.  She has been listed twice in the Who is Who Among American Teachers. She has published widely both in the academic field as well as in the creative areas.  She is the author of two children’s books, The Rainbow in My Room, and The Gift.  She recently had a solo exhibit of her paintings in Potomac, Maryland. She is currently on the Advisory Committee of the Montgomery County Library System in its Potomac, Maryland branch. She is on the Editorial Team for Inquiry in Education, a peer-reviewed journal published by National Louis University, Chicago, Illinois.

In the author’s own words…

Hyphenated identity with its complexities and simplicity is as old as human history; for some, the story is written in more linear scripts while for some life moves in more inebriated curves.  My two poems: Chat Masala and God is the Color of Water are two sides of this pendulum: linear and curvy.  My tone is more whimsical in writing Chat Masala, and I dedicate this poem to my grandson Anant, and many other kids like him. God is the Color of Water is inspired by James McBride’s book, The Color of Water. McBride, son of an African American father and a Portuguese mother, is an accomplished musician, author, and recipient of the National Book Award. The fabric of modern American society is slowly evolving – hybridity, which is compatible with hyphenated identity, is taking a turn in enriching rather than weakening the country.  We may sing in the same tune as Maya Angelou’s “I rise.... into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear….,” and we can dream with Walt Whitman for a new America, “I hear America singing the varied carols. I hear…. Each singing what belongs to him or her…. strong melodious songs.” This below painting of mine, The Young Explorer goes with my poems.  Information on my painting:  Meenakshi Mohan, The Young Explorer (24X36, oil on canvas with pallet knife).  Abbott Corporate Office in Chicago has the original of this painting. I dedicate this painting to all the children of the "Hyphenated" generation.

Chat Masala

My grandmother affectionately calls me
her "Chat Masala" –
"Why," I ask,
She tenderly expounds,
"You are as eclectic as all my chat masala recipes!"

Chat masala –
her favorite of all spices --
a mixture of various flavors.
A pinch in here and a nip in there
goes in all the delicacies her kitchen produces.
 Italian, French, Mexican, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, or name any --
 I relish the chromatic results
 this unique spice brings in her cooking.

“How am I your chat masala?”
Through her luminous smile, she illuminates
the story of my being.

Born in Singapore, childhood in Indonesia, India, England,
now, home in America --
a land of mixed ethnicity, race, culture, language, and religion.
In this deep-sea of the variegated expanse
I am not anyone's "bird of a feather."
My DNA weaved with mixed color and texture --
not a melting pot,
but my own unique identity.

I speak in many tongues.
As a child the first full sentence I babbled –
"Aku mav nasi goreng."
At four I mesmerized my audience,
reciting Sanskrit Shlokas in a tongue of pure silver.
I often correct my father's Americanized Hindi.
I trick my mother with her Cockney heritage.
Spanish and French come with liminal drifts.

In the world of music,
I float from Bollywood to Hollywood –
from rock, nu-metal, 90’s rap, soft pop to
Indian Blues, and Remixes

Anthony Bourdain's adventure with universal cuisine fascinated me.
My palatability extends beyond
fish and chips, hamburgers, pizza, parmigiana, NY strip, enchiladas, tacos,
moussaka to murgha mussallem, and saag paneer.
Mexican, Italian, French, Indian, Japanese, and many more I love.

I am chat masala,
I love my grandmother's analogy –
so precise and pure.
I am a pinch of this and a nip of that.
An eclectic mix!
I Am a Child of the Universe.

Note:  Chat Masala is a spice and a mix of different ingredients used in Indian cooking, but now getting universal galore.

Aku mav nasi goreng – Indonesian. “I want fried rice.”

God is the Color of Water

Who am I?
My confused eight-year-old reasoning,
muddled with fear, knew no bounds.
Is my mother really my mother?
Then, why is she different?
Searching, finding, lost at times,
my body and mind infused with orchestrated chaos,
I looked into the layers of my life’s scanty pages --
find an answer, open a mystery –
I asked with anxiety, and disquiet nervousness,
“Are you my real mother?”
“Yes, child!” you replied.
“Then, why am I different?”
You calmed my soul,
“We are all human beings,
 and God’s creation!
In our differences, we have similarities.”
“What color is God?” I asked.
You replied, “God is the color of Water!”
“But water has no color –
why did God put different colors in making us?”
My curiosity grew.
You smiled and took hold of my hand,
“God is an artist.  The canvas of the world is enormous –
He filled it with different colors to make it look beautiful.”
I smiled, I looked at myself, and I looked at my mother in the mirror –
yes, we were different, yet we were same --
both our hearts full of love.
Up above, and far away, God smiled
through a vast stretch of a rainbow --
shining different colors.

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