living by ayurveda
the story of baa
by Kaylah Patel
Inadequate attempts of historicizing Ayurveda have revealed the public perception that Ayurveda has been untouched by European powers. However, the dismissal of the practice from colonial India’s public policy emphasizes the European view of Ayurveda as an unscientific and unreliable form of medicine. Since the practice of Ayurveda did not include knowledge of surgery or the circulatory system and could not be fully standardized, the British empire disregarded its cultural significance.  Similar to other Eastern practices, such as mindfulness and meditation, Ayurveda has met the same fate of white-washing— the European domination of historically cultural practices— because India was viewed as a country that needed decontamination. Although Ayurveda was deemed worthy of funding in the 1910s, the reality is that Ayurveda was restructured along the allopathic guidelines of proper practice and theory. Why are these practices discredited because they aren’t aware of allopathic standards of medicine? The foundation of Ayurveda is built upon tridosha, or the maintenance of the three biological energies of Vata (air and space), Pitta (fire), and Kapha (water and earth).  A visual representation of tridosha can be seen in Figure 1. Ayurveda treats what is missing in the body as opposed to allopathic medicine, thus treating the person and not the disease. Since allopathic medicine does not follow the preservation of tridosha, who is to say that western medicine is not invalid?
Growing up in suburban Houston, I always wondered how my life would have been different if I wasn’t different, or more specifically white. My persistent need to belong fell short as an ethnic minority. I still recall one afternoon in elementary school when I brought khaman, a traditional Gujarati dish, for lunch compared to the infinite PB&J sandwiches surrounding my cultural cuisine. The aroma that I perceived as sweet and tangy was met by the bitter criticisms of my lunch neighbors, so from then on, I felt too Indian to be American and too American to be Indian. Since then, I have learned about my grandmother, Baa, and her unfaltering faith in Ayurveda as a home-to-home practitioner despite the initial cultural shock she experienced when immigrating from India to America. Baa may have moved geographically, but her heart remains in India. Reflecting on Baa’s journey, I’m filled with absolute pride knowing that she remains true to her Indian identity regardless of the Western society that she now lives in. To analyze the endless stigmatization of Ayurveda, I aim to shine a light on Baa’s relationship with the indigenous practice through an introductory short film, poetics, and personal narrative reflection. As this page develops, the color red will darken to represent her growing passion for preserving Ayurveda's sacredness. With my work, I hope to give justice to Baa’s strength and confidence in an indigenous practice that has fallen victim to criticisms throughout its history.
 Berger, Rachel. “Situating Ayurveda in Modernity, 1900–1919.” Ayurveda Made Modern, 2013, pp. 50–74., https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137315908_3.
 Nalin, Pan, director. Ayurveda: Art of Being. Monsoon Films Private Limited, Pan Nalin Pictures, Pandora Filmproduktion, 2001.
Graphic representing tridosha and the significance of each disha, or biological energy
“Baa” portrays the endless beauty of Ayurvedic herbs and their close-knit relationship with Hinduism. Several representations of the “confined” natural world are seen throughout the short video, the first of which is the clip showing the landscape behind a picket fence resembling the bars of a jail cell. Introducing this concept of controlling nature contrasts with the portrayal of the Ayurvedic herb jar alone in a sea of black pebbles. These pebbles represent overwhelming darkness, or barren land, where the natural herbs are the only “living beings” in sight, signifying the endless value of herbal medicine. In addition to the herbs, the photo of three shadows cast upon concrete are the three generations of women in my family that the Ayurvedic knowledge will be passed down, as this knowledge is considered sacred and private within the family’s generations. Throughout the video, an older Indian woman is repeatedly seen walking in a neighborhood and praying to her home temple. This vivacious woman is Baa, or my grandma, and her story is the foundation of my work showcasing the lesser-known beauty of Ayurveda. My literary works that follow aim to embody Baa’s independence and ferocity towards her passion for practicing Ayurveda and preserving her Indian culture amidst the pressures of Western society.
“In India, I learned Ayurveda from my father-in-law and father. They both said, “now you’ll do this work”. Once they left Ayurveda, they didn’t trust anyone to continue their legacy and have faith in Ayurveda. So your grandfather and my dad told me and not my siblings. They knew that I would do it.”
time has come
not from Lord Surya's
from the gentle ring
of morning puja bells
honk of rikshaw hiss of gas stove hum of fan
It is time
Is it time I am the culmination
of my two fathers' knowledge.
Bapu ji— dear protector, your trust in me never questioned.
Sasra ji— dear father-in-law, my work will honor your legacy.
I am legacy I am chosen
It is time
I awaken my holistic journey ayurveda.
“I bring the piles medicine and shells, as well, from India”
“ You can find the shells at the cutlery store and the piles medicine at the local grocery store.”
Image of the shells discussed in above quote and following poem
walk to the store
I walk to the cutlery store
sacred cows dogs purely
driven by survival children
forced to live as the adults
they once wished to be
they all call this alleyway
home eyes closed bliss
seeps from sweat pores
with each giddy step I am
immersed cleansing incense
from the store’s temple
I cross the narrow entryway
“Shells? Do you mean those
that only children play with?”
The store owner is appalled
but my request is not absurd
for he does not yet know that
my shells are not for playing
they are for healing
my herbs are not for tasting
they are for protecting
“Even with my age, I don’t have any health problems. I take care of my health by myself. I do not drink the American medicine even after staying in America for 30 years.”
aching heart fueled by humility, it beats
alone in this strange world
staring at children staring at screens and the parents waiting for them through their teens
recalling beloved third cousins
laughter the only audio in the village
America: a second life, a second dream
yet always foreignized from her legacy
as the years went by, the kitchen cabinet became the home of orange bottles differentiated by their unpronounceable names
pill bottles overflowed onto the countertop until her home for two
aching heart fueled by humility, it beats
“Yes, yes, if we practice Ayurveda from our hearts. When your grandpa ordered furniture, there was this man in Detroit that didn’t earn much money. To do a kidney stone operation, the doctor told him $15,000. To this day, those people consider me as their God. I even got a call from his mom and dad in India. They said, “my poor son would have had to take off from work and feel so much pain.” The boy was in so much pain that he would lay on the floor. After I talked to him on the phone, I told him about the kidney stone treatment. Then, the boy made excuses to the doctor to postpone the operation date by saying that his job didn’t give him off. After taking my medicine, he showed the doctor after one week. He lived in Chicago– no – Detroit. He told the doctor to first check the stone and see how big it was. The doctor checked and couldn’t find the stone. He said, “I can’t find your kidney stone. Where did it go?”. Then, the boy said that he talked to me and I gave him this medicine that removed the kidney stone. With this, he saved his money from the operation and earned the 15 days of wages that he would’ve had to miss”
thump thump. thump thump. thump thump.
where. god. resides.
Boy sees me as his God
All I can muster is a nod
My treatment is made for all
Saves them from financial pitfalls
But God is not who I should be called
where. good. resides.
thump thump. thump thump. thump thump.
baa and i: a glimpse into our interview
The sewing needle eventually left the grasp of her lipsticked pout as thoughts churned in sixty years of wisdom. From the water collecting by her tear duct, an occurrence as rare as our missed viewings of Bigg Boss, our favorite Indian reality television show, I knew that what Baa was soon to disclose was more meaningful than the flashing pixels on my phone. Truth be told, I had always only known Baa as the wise woman who stood by me hand-in-hand through all my turmoils. But little did I know that her tender loving hands were weathered down by years of sacrifice and independence.
Baa’s life was not easy; her stories of survival through tedious farm work in India sparked ambition in my eyes as I grew confident in my roots. As a widow, she took the initiative to learn how to drive at the age of sixty and managed to buy her own home, thus defying the stereotype of a widow’s indefinite dependence on others. She endured so much loss, yet always stayed true to her culture by instilling Hindu wisdom, knowledge of India’s indigenous Ayurvedic medicine, and the importance of virtue in my malleable mind.
Day and night, my grandma would run her business while striving to keep family relationships intact. While handling the chaos of her locally owned motel, she always ensured that she helped others as much as she could, from coordinating funerals within the Indian community to solely making food for family weddings. To this day, her wise words still repeat in my mind: “You can’t rely on having things to keep you happy; say God’s name and stay with family to feel true bliss.” And that is what I did from the day her eyes glistened with joy to the years when her caramel eyes remained enveloped by her puffy, tear-soaked eyelids. Soon, I began to withdraw my reluctance toward my tabla and Bharatanatyam training classes and fully accepted my identity as a proud Gujarati young woman.
Now as a devotee of indigenous medicine, Baa finds joy in sharing her ayurvedic treatments with strangers across the nation, inspiring my pleasure in providing comfort to the impaired by integrating our Indian culture into medicine. We live with content in our joint effort to ease pain and share any ounce of hope in times of despair. Despite our reasonable language barrier, our bond transcends the boundaries of consolidated verbal communication and originates in our reliance on practicality, free spirit, and dedication to our identities. I look to Baa when making those tough decisions, reminiscing on blissful memories, and embracing my cultural heritage, with the hope of embodying her humility and integrity amidst an ever-changing society.
for baa: my role model, mentor, and supporter
advised by Samuel Lê, Summer Nguyen, Brandon Ba, and Dr. Lan Li