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.
The division of labor in our household is wildly disproportionate whenever we are trying to get out the door. I get everything and everyone ready. If we’re traveling, I pack. Picnics, I pack. Dinner invitations, I pick out everyone’s clothes and prepare a dish to share. Birthday parties, I buy the gift and wrap it. And, maybe I’ll throw in a load of laundry, take out the trash, and clean the kitchen. My husband, Hadi, has his list, too: He gets himself ready and loads up the car if I haven’t gotten to it first.
We’ve been married for seventeen years, but these moments can still fill my mind with the words always and never. Hadi is always late. He never helps us get ready. I always have to do everything all by myself. I never get to take my time getting ready so I always look like a harried mess.
Most of the time, Hadi knows what I am thinking. “I’m in trouble, aren’t I?” he’ll say as we’re getting into the car. Sometimes I say, “Yes,” and spew every frustration that comes with doing too much for too many people. Sometimes, I fume wordlessly, a quiet grump in the front seat. But on better days, I remember this truth: The very thing I hate about my spouse in one context is the same thing I love in another.
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.
What would happen if you said “I love you” to your parents? These people did and the reactions are beautiful and heartwarming.
Filmmaker Steven Lim is calling for you to video your parents reacting to hearing the words come from you. Post your videos using the hashtag #iloveyouchallenge.
fr mariam , khadijah, fatima, hajar, alla , yall,
fr our communities that hold us,
recite algebraic formulas against evil eye
2 × al fatiha plus 3 astaghfirallahs =
your eyelashes wont fall out
written with such love and concern
fr when we struggle w them
against islamophobia ,
racism , the revolution
do our dawah n make
dua fr you, me, the deen
thinkin abt the dirty linen
we spent all night
folding with our teeth clenched…
Read the rest of this amazing poem, here!