Clove simmers in a bath of garbanzo beans, diced tomatoes, and fresh coriander. My mother adds chopped garlic to the iron pan, bleeding sharp flavors into the curry. She shakes turmeric powder into the mix, giving birth to a golden hue that settles in the pan and dissolves ever so quickly. Vertically-sliced onions float in the broth before being pulled down by the thick fragrance of the spices. Sliced fenugreek leaves dance along the evaporating surface and soak in the breaths of chili powder. Marathi music from the 1980s blends into the bubbling curry to create a delicious melody in the kitchen. My mother hums along, her voice being the secret ingredient to the recipe.
In my room upstairs, my back remains upright against the rigid metal chair. My eyes sweat weariness and frustration as I spend the third consecutive hour trying to figure out how to do my math homework. My head spins at the thought of having to complete another sheet of this homework and my knotted eyebrows shriek of stress and utter disappointment. With limp legs, I get up for the first time in three hours and open my bedroom door to get some fresh air. As soon as I open the door, a rush of pungency and spicy aroma infiltrates my nostrils. The smell of curry. Instantly, all the stress that caused me to pull my hair out is pushed away, and a smile blossoms across my face like a row of orchids. I wait, with a sense of urgency, for my mother to call me to dinner.
So where do these planes intersect? I think at this…hot curry melting in lemon juice...don’t get distracted! So I think in order to solve this problem, I will need to...ooooh cold cucumbers, lightly salted and gently coated with chat masala,
tangy flavor wrapping around my tongue and popping along my gums.
“Time for dinner!”
I slam my laptop shut immediately and run down the stairs, almost tripping over my own feet and plummeting down. As I enter the kitchen, the wafts of the boiling curry tangle in between my fingers and tuck themselves into my pores. They are restless spirits that waver around my nostrils and I don’t want to blow them away. As I sit down at the countertop, my mother slides a plate to me, filled with poli (tortilla), chole (garbanzo beans cooked in a flavorful broth), basmati rice,and sliced cucumbers. As I gather a spoonful of curry and bring it to my lips, the spices find my tongue and instantly calmness settles upon my shoulders. All those worries about math homework suddenly burst and wilt to the ground. The knots in my back unravel and it isn’t just my tongue that absorbs the curry; it’s my flesh, my brain, and my heart. My mother’s food is not just a scrumptious meal; eating it is a meditative whole-body experience. Quickly picking up the pace, I vigorously stuff the chhole into my mouth.
My mother sees my filled cheeks and scolds me playfully: “Halu halu kha!” (“eat slowly!”).
“I’m so hungry though!”
A grin draws across her face with a chuckle tumbling off her tongue as she watches my lips drip of curry and crushed cucumber pulp. As I stuff myself with my mother’s food, I feel an intense surge of comfort, as if I was hugging her.
My mother has cooked dinner for me from the first day of my life. When she makes dinner, she is not only presenting her culinary skills, but she is displaying her dedication and commitment towards me and my family. She knows that after a long day, all we want to eat is her food: a gentle and soft kiss in the form of a meal. Her food breathes of tenderness, sending heartbeat-like pulses through my body. Spices flow through my blood, rejuvenating my soul like drops of lime extract on biryani (Indian rice dish). My mother’s food makes me feel closer to her, just as close as when I had tumbled from her womb and was held up to her breast in the hospital bed as I cried. And from that moment, when I was a few seconds old, to now being seventeen years old, her feeding me has made me feel safe. When I eat her food, it reminds me that if everything else goes wrong in my life, I will always have her.
Not only does my mother’s food bring me closer to her, but it also allows me to connect to and honor my heritage. My parents are both from India, but I was born in the US. Because of this, I have adopted a very strong American identity and a weaker Indian identity. I can’t speak Marathi, the language that both my parents speak. I don’t pray frequently. I don’t do upvas (fasting on a specific schedule). I have been shaped heavily by the country I live in and my mother’s food brings me back to my roots. It brings me back to the humid nation that my parents come from: the country that blooms of spices and inspiring culture, the country filled with ripe sugarcane and fields painted with saffron, the country of pickled green mangoes melting piquant chili onto cooked potatoes, the country with hundreds of dialects and lively festivals in the streets. It brings me back to whose womb I came out of and reminds me of how important it is to embrace the Indian part of my Indian American identity.
There’s a vast story behind my mother’s food. It doesn’t only quiet my stomach or color my face with pleasure. It calms me and reminds me that no matter how frustrating life can be, everything is going to be okay. It allows me to reflect on my ancestors and my identity. And most of all, it brings me close to the strong and beautiful woman who has taken care of me all these years: my mother.