I remember turning into a little monster when I got hungry. My mom called it peevishness. It would be hangry by today’s standards. Mom would quietly prepare a warm bowl of lentils and rice, drop a few pieces of aloo and gobi in the mixture, and feed me with her own hands. Kneeling before me with the corning ware cupped in her hands, she would blow on the steaming hot bowl of wholesome goodness and quell my rising storm. Some ten minutes later, I would apologize with a smile of wordless satisfaction.
Food for me is love. It was and remains my mother’s greatest language. You cannot enter her home full, nor would you dare. She would have labored for days in anticipation of your visit, preparing your unspoken favorites: fluffy deep fried pooris with chana and chutney, platters filled with chaat that leave you licking your fingers and the bottom of the bowl, and teapots brimming with fresh chai, spiced with cardamom and saffron, accompanied by a plate of savory goodies prepared in her kitchen like artisans in the bazaars of India. Her greatest pleasure comes from feeding you your most treasured eats. My children love their Nani, and my husband joyfully suffers from the overindulgences that are requisite with his every visit. Pleasing her means allowing mom to surfeit his palate, which is generally followed by a death nap before a second round of boundless feasting.
I remember worrying as a child. Would I ever be able to make round chapatis like Mummy? Could I feed my children to satisfaction in the way my mother always has? How could I possibly practice my profession, run a home and satisfy the needs and wants of my family? I had watched my mother tirelessly prevail in all arenas. A physician herself, she would work eight long hours, with a commute that often pushed two hours round trip. Donning an apron, she would start on the evening meal with purpose and precision. A warm, fresh dinner greeted us every evening of the week. My late father would often remark, “We eat out on the weekends to give your mom a break.” For, if he had his way, my father would have been delighted to subsist on her vegetarian desi meals. Married for forty-seven years, he would say she found the way to his heart through his stomach.
When my late Uncle was languishing in the hospital, it was my mother who lovingly prepared fatty, rich packages of his favorites, hoping to tempt his waning palate in his final days of life and breath. He would smile amidst his struggles to sit up. He need not have said more to my mother whose only wish for anyone she loves and cares for is to feed and offer her warmest gift – her heart. It is this very tradition of food as love that I witnessed in my Aunts. I bear countless stories of selfless homemaking women who formed my outer nucleus, the very women who now, in their seventies, indulge me and my children with their culinary wizardry.
Fast forward thirty years: I am now a physician myself, a mother of three children, a wife, and a proficient cook. I have cooked for my friends and loved ones in times of want and need. I have created my own YouTube channel on Indian cuisine and preside over my family’s meals almost as affectionately as my mother always had. My greatest gift, no doubt, is the gift of a mother who was always teaching me. Her silent grace guides me to this day. My high school son dedicated his sophomore project to his Nani. Spending weekends with her or by phone, he created a cookbook of many delicious recipes, affixing a story and a photograph to each memorable dish. My greatest satisfaction is in knowing that her legacy will not have been lost. Her joy of cooking lives on in my children and in me.
Why do I cook? Because my mother always has. It is a love language that is without measure. Food is why we collect and is the canvas over which we converse. Bonds are forged, relationships are sealed, and the meal is the culminating expression of joy and satisfaction.
My home, like my mother’s, is an open door to those who know my family. And just as you cannot leave hungry after a visit with Nani, I pray you will leave mine with memories of butter chicken and mango lassi, inviting you back for more.