Karen Vasudev is a San Francisco bay area native, who spent time in India during the 1960s and 1970s. It was the height of the flower power and Hare Rama Hare Krishna movement here in the bay area when Karen relocated to Kanpur, India with her young son and husband. In a sense she missed the whole flower power movement of the bay area, but in spending time in India she got some fantastic real life experience of living in India and learning the language, food and culture of her husband’s country.
After finishing his PhD in Seattle her husband landed a teaching position at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur. Karen did not know what to expect except since this was her first visit to the country. For starters she certainly did not expect to be greeted by a large group of her husband’s extended family at the airport. Karen was a quick study and learnt to navigate her way through the Indian social system. She learnt not one, but two Indian languages and honed her cooking skills in her mother-in-law’s South Indian kitchen. Today, Karen can quickly rustle up South Indian dishes like idli, dosa, sambhar and chutney in a jiffy.
We sat down to talk to Karen about her experience of being an American in India in the 1960s. We wanted to find out how she learnt to speak Hindi, cook Indian food and enjoy Indian films – think Bollywood. We also found out how she navigated her Indian kitchen and the cookbook that rescued her. That cookbook was The Landour Cookbook, compiled by American missionaries in Landour, which is home to the oldest American school in India – The Woodstock school. Karen still has her copy of The Landour Cookbook and we got to see it.
Karen lived in India for over 10 years before returning to the US and making the San Francisco bay area her home.