Indo-American Goddess - Padma Lakshmi talks with You & I

She’s the quintessential goddess who oozes sensuality and sex appeal. Her God-given beauty leaves most people who come in contact with her speechless for the first few minutes. Padma Lakshmi comes close to being a walking, talking, breathing goddess. While it is easy to be captivated by her beauty alone, the gorgeous lady’s humility and honesty take one by surprise. Taking advantage of her Indian roots and looks and her American outlook on life, she exemplifies the term ‘exotic beauty’, and has used it to her advantage. She dons many hats – including author, actress, model, television host and executive producer – but her favourite role is that of being a mother to her daughter, Krishna. We caught up with her recently while she was in India promoting her memoir, Love, Loss and What We Ate.

If there’s one takeaway from your book you’d like readers to come away with, what would it be?
Everyone has a different experience of the book based on their own life. For me, as I look back almost a year after I finished it, I can say I wanted this to be a book for young women all over the world who were still figuring out who they wanted to be. It’s for those who felt like an outsider in some way, in any way, whether it’s that they just got married or moved to a new city, or were starting over in some way. It took me much longer to figure out who I am, and I wanted to write about that journey in an honest way.

Being an Indian who grew up in America, how Indian do you feel?
I feel very Indian; I don’t feel less Indian than anybody else who has grown up in India. I grew up speaking Tamil with my mother and Hindi with my stepfather. I eat Indian food and feel very Indian. I may not go to the temple every week, but I do every once in a while. I feel very grounded to my roots; they’re very comforting to me and are a set of beliefs and cultural norms I can draw from. Whenever there is a case of straddling two cultures, it is difficult in the moment, especially when you feel like an outsider. But it makes you a stronger person, more adaptable, and it also makes you have more patience. You know that you are starting out a little bit from behind, yet you can make it through. I am not an Indian citizen, but at heart I feel very Indian and I don’t struggle with that.

You’ve touched upon the outsider aspect a lot. What made you feel that way?
I think it was a feeling I got for different reasons at different points of time. When I was young and living in India, I was 6 feet tall at the age of 13 and I felt very gangly. I remember being at a market in Delhi and some guy screaming, “What a height” (mimics a man in strong Indian accent). After that, in college I was a theatre major, while the rest of my family went into more traditional professions like engineering and medicine, so I always felt a bit intellectually second-class (laughs). But as you get older you make your own way, and you come to be at peace with who you are. And once you get to that point, you also realise that there are a lot of advantages in these differences, and you start using those advantages, the different perspectives, and the multiple languages to your benefit.

They say one gets wiser with age and experience. What’s the one piece of advice you would give your 25-year-old self?
It would definitely be that everything takes longer than you think it is going to, and don’t lose hope or ever give up. By the time I was 30 my modelling career was dwindling, and I wasn’t getting great acting gigs either. In my head I was thinking “What is going to be my next act”. I didn’t want to be just an ex-model; I wanted to have a serious professional life and do stimulating work. I was 30, and most Indian parents expect us to know everything by 30 – have a set career, having found the person you want to marry, buy a house or perhaps even have a kid. All this is too much pressure to put on ourselves. If I had to talk to my younger self I would say just keep at it; just put one foot in front of the other. When one is trying to find a career path as well, I would say try to find something that comes naturally to you. It should be something you don’t mind spending a lot of hours doing, since you will be spending most of your life doing it.

You’ve certainly lived a very colourful life so far. What’s been the most exciting part?
I think there are different moments that have stood out, but by far the best moment was having my daughter, Krishna, especially because it happened unexpectedly. She is a fun kid to have around!         --- as told to Suneela