This summer I took my six-year-old daughter Priya to the county fair. Because we live in the suburbs, my daughter's experience with farm animals is limited to the animated ones she sees on the movie screen while watching "Charlotte's Web." We walked, hand in hand, through the stalls filled with Jersey cows, cages full of warm and fuzzy chicks, and an array of vegetables and flowers. Suddenly, amid the sights and sounds and the smells of the fair, my long-lost childhood winked at me. I felt nostalgia so poignant that I had to step away to phone my sister half a world away.
I grew up in Assam, India, in a middle-class household of professionals: academics, scientists and doctors. We did not live on a farm, but behind our house was a plot of land big enough for a large vegetable garden, a shed for our three cows and a coop full of chickens. My professor father had a passion for teaching English literature, but he also took abundant pride and satisfaction in growing flawless cauliflower and 12-inch dahlias and serving his children organic food straight from his yard. At eight I tended a tiny corner plot in the garden, where I proudly grew kohlrabi and sweet peas with a passion that matched my father's.
Early spring turned the garden in front of the house into a fragrant bouquet of flowers: gardenias, lilies and roses and many more. The fragrance wafted through the air, enhanced by all the other flowers in the neighborhood. Orchids adorned the jackfruit tree for weeks before the Indian New Year celebration in mid-April. Then they became crowning glories in our young eyes, lovingly arranged by our mother to go with our pastel spring dresses. Now, decades later, the whiff of a lone gardenia in a store across the globe from my childhood home brings tears to my eyes and myriad questions from my own six-year-old child. Cloaked in that fragrance was my childhood, my adolescence and the world that I left behind to embrace a new one.
Our favorite spot to hang out on a...