Om Padma Hmmm

I was deep into conversation with JJ once upon a time. It was going along well and then I made a comment to which his answer was “Hmmm.” I thought to myself, did that little shit just cut me off with a snide, arrogant grunt? Is he disagreeing? What part of my statement is he questioning? I didn’t understand. I thought we were on the same page and then suddenly “hmmm”. And nothing else. If he disagreed why didn’t he clarify? I found his behavior to be dismissing and rude. Haughty even. I was a little pissed and he couldn’t figure out why. Wasn’t it obvious?

I was deep into conversation with my friend A today about cultural norms and the difficulties they can cause in communication. We disagree on some points and I made a comment to which his answer (over IM) was “hmmm”. Now, these days I know enough to ask the question, “Was that a hmmm of disagreement or disbelief? A hmmm to indicate you find my statement interesting? or was that the traditional Indian hmmm of agreement?”

“Agreement”, he said.


I was talking to my cousin about my love of fish and she told me hates fish. I asked her when she has had fish. She said she had it once at Bubba Gumps in the Mall of American in Minneapolis. “So, how do you know you hate fish?” I asked her.

“Didn’t I just tell you?” She was being snide, but it runs in the family.

“No,” I said, “you told me you hate fish at Bubba Gumps in Minnesota. You haven’t told me if you have had Salmon roasted over a fire at a Skokomish Pow Wow. If you have had Tuna cut fresh on the dock and eaten raw in Hilo. If you have had pickled herring with vodka for Christmas.”

“Ohhh,” she said, “I like pickled Herring.”

“So you like fish?”

“No. I like pickled Herring.”

My friend A had a very good point. Culture difference cause mis-understandings. My argument was that differences are not culture bound and that there is culture within culture. There is family culture. There is generational culture. All have their difference. Their might be more differences in culture between cousins than between people from other sides of the world. These kinds of mis-understandings don’t just cause problems though, they do other things too. They also provide learning opportunities which can make you think differently, less personally, about problems and mis-understandings. I, for instance, have learned about ‘hmmm’. If I tell my cousin she should try Korean grilled fish and I get a un-emotive ‘hmmm’, she is probably thinking I am crazy. If someone from East India give me an un-emotive ‘hmmm’ and they are not vegetarian, they might be agreeing with me.

We discussed our earlier conversational tension some more and then A said, “You see, cultural differences do cause problems.”

“Hmmm,” I answered.

Doi Maach

(Bengali Fish Curry with Curd from Show me the



Rohu/Rui – 1/2 lb (250 gms)
Substitutes:Red Snapper, Halibut, Cod, Haddock, Swordfish

Turmeric Powder – 1/4 tsp + 1/4 tsp
Salt – 1/4 tsp + 1/4 tsp or to taste

Onion – 1/2 medium
Mustard Oil – 3 tbsp
Cardamoms – 4
Cloves – 4
Bay Leaves – 2-3
Cinnamon – 1″ pc
Green Chillies – to taste, slit
Ginger – 1 tsp, minced
Red Chili Powder – to taste
Sugar – 1/4 tsp
Yogurt – 2 tbsp
Water – 2 tbsp
Golden Raisins – 1 tsp, optional
Water – 2 cups


1. Wash and clean the Fish.
2. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp of Turmeric and 1/4 tsp of Salt and rub on the Fish.
3. Set the fish aside and allow it to marinate for 5-10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, make a paste of the Onion and set aside.
5. In a mortar and pestle, pound the Cardamom and the Cloves, discard the Cardamom skin. Set aside.
6. In a pan, heat the Oil and lightly fry the fish on both sides, pull aside on a paper towel till ready to use.
7. In the same. remaining Oil, add in the Bay Leaves, Ground Cloves & Cardamom, Onion Paste, Green Chilies, 1/4 tsp Salt.
8. Mix and cook for 2-3 minutes.
9. Add in Ginger, Turmeric Powder, Red Chili Powder, Sugar and mix.
10. Smooth the Yogurt with 2 tbsp of water, turn the flame off and slowly add the Yogurt to the pan, while stirring continuously.
11. Once mixed in, turn the flame back on and add in the Raisins.
12. Cook till the Oil separates from the mixture.
13. Once done, add in the Fish gently.
14. Cook on both sides for a couple of minutes.
15. Add in the Warm Water (2 cups) and mix very gently to mix the masala to the Water.
16. Once mixed in, lower flame, cover and cook for 10 minutes.
17. After 10 minutes, uncover, increase the heat to a high and cook for another 5-7 minutes.
18. Cook till the gravy becomes thick to serve with Rice or Chapati.


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