April 9, 2017

Harry Potter & Saag Paneer

Have you ever set your mind to something? Like really felt strongly about a particular thing, to the point that it caused you to change your behavior one way or another?

Today, my husband and I were eating lunch at an Indian restaurant. I went to the buffet, filled my plate with all sorts of delicious options and was enjoying a big bite of chana masala when it occurred to me that not too many years ago this lunch experience would not have been possible.

I was probably in my late twenties the first time I tried Indian cuisine. There's an Indian restaurant in Knoxville called Sitar and my husband loves it. He has been a fan for many years. Since I first met him really. Early on in our relationship, he started trying to get me to dine there with him. We'd be driving down Kingston Pike away from the University of Tennessee campus (where I lived and worked).

All along the way we'd pass different restaurants looking for a place to have dinner. And inevitably, we'd approach this particular spot and he'd excitedly say, "Oooh, how about Sitar!?!?!"

And every time, this was my response: "I'm sorry honey...I just don't do Indian."

Perhaps you're wondering if I had a bad experience with Indian food in the past that caused me to avoid it. That's just not the case. In fact, I had never had any experience with Indian food. Growing up in a small southern town, I had been exposed to American style Chinese food and a little bit of Thai cuisine. But no Indian. Somewhere along the way I developed a notion that curry was gross. Mind you, this wasn't based on any sort of experience I'd ever had with it...just an idea that sprung up in me.

One of my biggest regrets in life is not trying Indian food during my first trip to London. I had just graduated from high school and my traveling companions and I were staying in an area with lots of Indian restaurants around. One night my dear friend and I walked past many probably incredible bistros and cafes because I was dying to have...wait for it...Subway. Gawd, I'm embarrassed just typing it. But I was young and homesick and wanted something that tasted familiar. Ugh. I'll never make that mistake again.

So after years and years of refusing to try Indian food, I finally gave in. I accompanied my husband to Sitar and was surprised to find many things I liked. Nearly everything. After that I was hooked. It's one of our favorite things and we've even learned to make several Indian style dishes at home.

But what does this have to do with the boy wizard? When I was in college, I had a friend named Stephanie. I still do, but life has happened and we never get to see each other, which makes me sad. Miss you Stephanie! Anyway, Stephanie loved Harry Potter. LOVED. IT. And I thought it was so silly. I couldn't figure out what the draw was. I couldn't figure out why a 20-something college girl would be into these fantasy books for children. Four of the books had already been published and the films began coming out during that time as well. I teased Stephanie all the time about her HP obsession.

A few years later, after I had graduated and started working at UT, I met my friend Reid. We were both art history majors who loved to read. One of our professors told us she and her young son were reading the Harry Potter book series together. Reid asked me if I'd read the books and I told him I'd never been able to figure out what was so great about them.

"You just have to read them," he said. "I can't believe you haven't read them." I think he even went home on his lunch break and brought back his copy of the Sorcerer's Stone for me to borrow.

"Start reading this tonight," he said.

I didn't have anything else to do and I was curious why he felt so strongly, so I gave it a chance.

I read the first book in one sitting. I read for hours, late into the night, until I got to the last page. I was hooked. I couldn't believe what I had been missing all that time. Stephanie was right. Reid was right. Millions of other people too. I had set my mind against something for no reason other than my own preconceived notion and it cost me. Thankfully I was able to remedy that. When The Deathly Hallows came out in 2007, I stood in line at the bookstore in the middle of the night to get my copy. I went straight home and read it from cover to cover. And I still love watching the films over and over again.

There was no reason for my aversion to either Harry Potter or Indian food. Both started as a small idea. And because I kept feeding both, they grew into a belief system. That those things weren't for me.

How many other wonderful things do we miss out on experiencing because we have set our mind against them? How many people could completely and totally enrich our lives if we'd let them in? Instead we've decided there are certain things, certain people, certain ways of being that aren't for us.

But what do we really know about them anyway? In my case, nothing. I had based my beliefs on a bunch of silly ideas that ended up being hogwash. I don't just tolerate Indian food or Harry Potter...I love them! They are two of my most favorite things in the world. And I can't imagine a life without either one. As silly as it might sound, both have enriched my life. I think it's important to keep this in mind...and continue to challenge ourselves. Continue to try things we thought we were against. We might just be surprised with the outcome.