I’m a foodie. I’ll admit it. I shamelessly look up pictures and videos of food on websites like Tastespotting and Instagram. It’s even more thrilling to do it while I’m fasting.
I grew up in a small city in Michigan. Food played an important role in bringing together my mixed family. As a child of an immigrant father from Pakistan and an Irish-Slavanian American mother, my parents imbued me with a passion for food.
I remember picnics as a child on Lake Michigan in Chicago, stuffing spicy, grilled masala chicken into steaming folds of pita bread, while watching my brother play Frisbee with my then-20 year-old uncles who had huge Afros and wore black leather jackets. I remember Mom making Thanksgiving turkey and Ammi Jan frying up the leftovers in MSG to serve with biryani the day after.
It was exactly five years to the day since the wedding I wrote about in my story for the Love, Inshallah anthology, “Punk Drunk Love.” Here I was again for another Desi wedding in the same suburban Indian restaurant. Heck, I’m pretty sure I was even sitting at the very same table.
The couple was different and I was wearing a different sari, but the celebration of love was the same. It was impossible not to think of him – the leading man of that romantic narrative years ago, who had attended that wedding with me. My mind replayed moments from that night: his hand on my knee, the look in his eyes, how he had made my heart race.
I no longer missed him, but the memories reminded me of how I had once loved like that. Five years later, he was long gone, but I was still in the shadow of that memory, still single and still unable to find that permanent kind of love.
My grandmother’s name is Raj Kumari, which means “princess” in English. She has always been in my life and is part of my earliest memories. As a child, I had a habit of stealing butter and ghee from the kitchen, hiding under the table and eating it. My grandmother would walk in; see me eating butter out of the container, smile and say: “You look like Lord Krishna!”
Hands down, she’s the best cook in my entire family, and because of her we grew up eating great Punjabi food. Saag, muttar paneer, kheer, aloo paratha, gajjar ka halwa – ask for it, and my grandma can make it.
I’m now “of age”, so she is teaching me to cook and training me to become “a good Punjabi wife.” I use that phrase jokingly, but if I’m honest, it fills me with a sense of dread. I’ve grown up with an unusual family dynamic: my mother abandoned us eight years ago and my grandma stepped in to help bring up my younger brother and me. Many South Asians don’t understand our family set up and have often judged us quite harshly. I remember being told: “You’ll end up on welfare because your family is broken.” I never felt like my family was broken. My grandma was the glue that kept us all together.
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What was it like in your household?
“You want to kill us? No? Then don’t do the secks!”
And just like that, I remember it all.
At the age of 25, after 6.5 years of marriage, my best friend died with my hand in his. Cancer transported his vitality too quickly into a realm better than life, facilitated by a roomful of angels whose countenances I couldn’t see, but whose warm wings and nur soothed my sore, bloodshot eyes.
He used to call me his “heat seeker,” borrowed from a Talib Kweli Reflection Eternal verse. Ha! Funny. I was anemic, occasionally. I’m cooler blooded anyways, it’s in my chi. When we slept together I hated wearing socks, but my toes were always cold. From my side of the bed I placed my feet on his back for as long as it took for my toes to became warm. He (almost) never minded. He always shared his warmth, his love radiating from within.
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