NRI Voice: Mardi Gras Forever
Sanjukta Basu, a student in the United States, loves collecting memorabilia from the Mardi Gras carnival in New Orleans and has bags full of them.
Adjusting to life in the United States was a fairly easy process for Sanjukta Basu, a PhD scholar in economics at the Tulane University in New Orleans. The temperature isn’t very different from India in New Orleans and the food is spicy enough, she tells Little India.
Basu, 28, lives in a city that shuts down once a year to celebrate Mardi Gras — a carnival held before the start of the Lent season. The occasion is colorful, loud and crowded, not unlike sights in India.
It is a matter of pride for Basu to collect as many memorabilia flung by different Krewes — different groups of people making floats for the Mardi Gras parade. Basu tell us about the three Mardi Gras parades she has attended so far, and other highlights of her life in New Orleans:
I had the most unusual experience on my first day in the city. In New Orleans, I noticed that everyone greets everyone. People on the road wished each other “Good Morning,” bus drivers asked me about my day, passersby complimented my clothes. This was quite unusual for me. I have never acknowledged the presence of fellow bus riders or other people, waiters or others around me who are not directly part of my conversation, in India. The city is more inviting and people stop to talk to strangers. This was my biggest learning. It took me some time to adapt to the friendliness offered by the city.
Odd One Out
My class has more international students than Americans, although I am the only Indian in my department. I got along with my classmates very well and stayed with one of them for two weeks while I was between apartments.
Initially, I became friends with a couple of Indians but that was because my classmates were all married and had kids, so going out for a drink on a weeknight was never in the schedule. However, over time I grew close to people from different nationalities. Besides a couple of Indians, a Chinese, Bolivian, and American person are my closest buddies. I have learnt about their culture and they were curious about mine.
Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday starts more than two weeks before the actual event. An adult-only parade is held three Saturdays before Mardi Gras. Over 50 parades are held in and around New Orleans, and each parade has its own krewe, or participants. They are all dressed according to the theme of the year and their krewe. They throw tons of stuff like beads, toys, balls, t-shirts, scarfs, jewelry, and other things. Each parade has its own signature throw. For instance, a krewe of muses will have sparkling, glitter decorated shoes, and a krewe of Nyx will have decorated purses, while a krewe of d’etat would give out bones, and a krewe of tucks will give fancy toilet paper rolls. The theme of the krewe of Orpheus in 2016 was Hindu gods and goddesses.
The city is quite normal on all days except on the days of Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras. The only way to celebrate it is by being on the street. People dress up even if they are not in the parade. Most people have themes. For instance, once I saw a group of people dressed up as the characters from The Wizard of Oz, with men dressed as women characters and vice versa. New Orleans allows alcohol on the street, so you meet some crazy drunk people too.
Bags Full of Collectibles
I like collecting Mardi Gras throws. I have got bags full of stuff. There is also a special cake called king cake available only during the Mardi Gras season. It’s sugary and colorful, and amazingly delicious.
Warm and Welcoming
It’s hot and humid here, making me miss the dry heat of Delhi, although winters are relatively less cold than in Delhi. The weather was freezing a couple of times, but the city shuts down during those days, and I did not have to leave my warm home. However, the rainy season is very unpredictable, with the weather fluctuating for six months, before the onset of summer. I have experienced very hot days, heavy rainfall and close to zero-degree temperature all in one week. Other than that, I am glad I live here as the weather reminds me of home.
Home-cooked but Creole
I cook most of the time and unlike food in the north-east and west coast in the United States, it has more spices and flavor here. The Creole and Cajun cuisines use similar spices as Indian food. Although this city doesn’t offer good Indian food, their own cuisine is amazing. However, I do miss some specific Indian food items, which are not available here.