The Sporkful | Podcast Review | November 6, 2015 | By

The Sporkful: A Very Trini Punjabi Diwali (with DJ Rekha)

Breakout the Scotch as The Sporkful rings in the New Year.

Happy New Year Audiologue readers! Saal Mubarak!

What’s that?

It’s not the New Year?

Yeah? Well, you know, that’s just, like, uhh, your opinion, man.

Diwali, 1 or the “festival of lights,” is a huge international holiday celebtrated by the 1.5 billion people that are Hindu, Sikh, or Jain. It represents the triumph of light over darkness. Or you can let POTUS explain it to you. 2 For Gujju Hindus, like myself, the day after Diwali symbolizes the start of the New Year. The Sporkful blog post accurately describes Diwali as being “Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years Eve rolled into one, plus July 4th fireworks.” Just like any holiday, there is an abundance of music, dancing, family gatherings, and of course food. Cue Dan Pashman.

The episode starts with a clip of Dwight, from the show The Office, quickly explaining the mythology behind Diwali. 3 Pashman treks to Queens to visit Trinidadian Dolly Sirju and her daughter Mandy Ramroop. Pashman revels in being fed  baiganeekurhi with pholourie, and aloo channa from Sirju and Ramroop’s home kitchen, exclaiming, “It is days like this, Dolly, that I love my job.” Pashman asks the expected questions about what Diwali means to their family and how the food tradition has been passed down from mother to daughter. The segment bore a resemblance to an audio version of My Grandmother’s Ravoli by Pashman’s Cooking Channel colleague, Mo Rocca.

In the second half of the show we hear an interview with Punajbi Bhangra music pioneer DJ Rekha from a recent The Sporkful live show at Tufts University. We go through another iteration of the usual line of questioning (over some Scotch that Pashman brought) 4 about how Rekha celebrates Diwali, what her favorite foods are, the difficulties of balancing cultures, her life growing up, and how she became a Bhangra DJ. We learn why gambling and sweets are common during Diwali, how the spork is the perfect utensil for rice, and what Rekha’s favorite bite is.

Overall, the episode introduced some interesting people and was a good foray into Diwali. However, The Sporkful team really missed an excellent opportunity to explain the extraordinary diversity behind “Indian food.” 5 India is a vast country, where languages, ethnicities, and even types of bread can change within a few short miles. To add to this, “Indian food” is cooked world-wide. Because of British indentured-servitude during  colonial days, the Indian diaspora is the second largest in the world (currently, the third largest immigrant group in the United States).

When Americans go out to eat “Indian food,” they are most likely eating a style of cuisine from Northern India—Punjabi food. This is not a representation of Indian food as a whole, just as the monolithically Cantonese American-Chinese food is not representative of Chinese food.

So when The Sporkful titles an episode “A Very Trini Punjabi Diwali,” I want to hear about the unique Trinidadian-Indian cuisine that Pashman explored. I’m sure Sirju can explain the differences between Trinidadian-Indian cuisine and what we normally see in Indian restaurants. I’m sure Pashman has the culinary experience and knowledge to help delineate the many unique flavors, textures, and bite compositions from this fusion of cultures. It felt a bit generic to ask about how a mother passes down recipes or how to straddle two cultures at the same time. These are important generational immigrant perspectives, but I think it could have been saved for extras on the blog post. I know what Indian food is, and I have had Caribbean-Indian food before, but I haven’t heard the differences between the two explained to me in the way that I know Dan Pashman can.

In the end, I think it is great to forgo an episode about candy and Halloween for one that explores a holiday celebrated by over a sixth of the world’s population. So I, like The Sporkful, encourage you to find a Little India near you to join in. If you don’t live close to one, I’m sure there is a Diwali celebration in a firehall that sits in a sleepy cornfield, where kids are playing football in the parking lot, “uncles” are getting lit behind the scenes, and teenage girls are competing to see who has the best dance moves near you this month.

  1. Going to stick to Diwali over Deepvali cause it’s shorter and I’m ABCD. ^
  2. Indians went crazy when he did this. I thought it was really cool too. Much respect prez. ^
  3. Mindy Kaling, wrote the “Diwali” episode for The Office. It was one of the show’s more memorable episodes because it exemplified the cringy awkwardness that only Michael Scott could create. Lauren Markoe of The Huffington Post wrote that it “represents perhaps the brightest spotlight ever shone on Diwali in the United States.” So it is only appropriate that Pashman uses the episode twice in his show. ^
  4. I’ll leave this here. ^
  5. Please take my criticism with a grain of salt. I am speaking from an Indian-American perspective here. ^

About the Author

Saheel Mehta is a founding writer at Audiologue, where he likes to cover podcasts relating to science, sports, and politics. Right now, his favorite shows are The Memory Palace and Reply All. Find him on Twitter @saheelmehta, or by email at

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