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.

14 replies
  1. Meegan Zickus
    Meegan Zickus says:

    Dear Dr. Abha,

    I came to find your blog through Mimi Emig. I am indebted to her for making my journey as a ‘vulnerable person’ through COVID so much more graceful and I feel the same warmth as I read through your blog posts.

    One of my dearest friends growing up on the Texas/Mexican border was from Pakistan. Her father came to that desolate stretch of earth to start an NICU to serve the immigrants coming over the Rio Grande from all parts south. The Irish and the Pakistani bonded—and certainly stood out among a population that was 99% Hispanic. We were both foreign to the land and to each other, and Saba’s dear mother fed me spices and breads and meals that found their way to my heart.

    Decades later, when I became pregnant with my first daughter, I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum. I happened across an newly opened Indian restaurant. While different from the Pakistani food, it was still sublime. The chicken lababdar was the only meal I craved, other than immense loads of watermelon 🙂

    Your writing today is wonderful and connecting. Thank you for sharing it. It reminds me of my friend, Saba….our friendship….our youth….our connectedness years later as she battled a horrible, metastatic cancer……and how quickly an aroma can take your spirit right next to an old, dear friend, despite the physical distance.

    Thank you for the journey today……tomorrow, kadhi pakora…..

    Meegan

    Reply
    • Dr. Abha
      Dr. Abha says:

      Dear Meegan:
      Your story is unbelievable. You created a landscape one can only imagine. The merging of disparate cultures and a shared affection for culture and cuisine is a wonderful thing. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
      I am so happy you shared your message.
      In health,
      Abha

      Reply
  2. Cindy Kamp
    Cindy Kamp says:

    A beautiful tribute to your mother and to the tradition of food as a love language. I had 2 grandmothers who cooked and baked with a similar joy, nourishing their loved ones in their kitchens. You are carrying on your Mother’s commitment to good food and to tradition!

    Reply
  3. Colleen Mittal
    Colleen Mittal says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your “wizard in the kitchen” mother. I remember your mother, on one of our visits to Detroit, she disappeared from the conversation for what seemed like 15 minutes, then called us into the dining room with a fully decorated table & an amazing array of fabulous dishes. She made it seem effortless. But, we know it was always a labor of love & a great talent!

    Reply
    • Dr. Abha
      Dr. Abha says:

      Dear Auntie:
      Her love is undeniable. Her name means love. She does make it look easy. Even in her seventh decade, she derives strength from those gathered at her table, indulging her indulgences.
      You are such an important matriarch. You continue to spread joy and give honor.
      🙏🏾❤️ Abha

      Reply
  4. Mimi Emig
    Mimi Emig says:

    Beautifully written. I can smell the scents of the rich spices and aromas, feel the love passing through the nourishing food. Thank you for this lovely tribute to your family, and for carrying this on and sharing the skills with those around you. -Mimi

    Reply
  5. Ashok Mittal
    Ashok Mittal says:

    Dear Abha:
    I too have enjoyed your mom’s cooking, by far the best Indian food I have had. When she came to see us last time, I made a point to have her cook in our kitchen, and I shadowed her by writing down the recipes she cooked that day. They were lovingly entered in my Notes as “Sneh’s Recipes”. And as Colleen said, her efficiency in putting out an entire feast is unparalleled. As you know, I myself love to cook and like to add the secret “love” in all my cooking! Cooking for me has always been a hobby as well as a stress release. I remember clearly when I was in the height of my career and was stressed, I would come home and start cooking. Colleen would wisely stay out of the kitchen and tell the kids, “dad has had a tough day but get ready for a wonderful dinner”!

    Thanks for sharing your post and reminding me to add my own experience…

    Reply
    • Dr. Abha
      Dr. Abha says:

      Dear Mamaji,
      I love your message. And I can hear you chuckle as you speak these words. You have the gift of story making and I adore it. I am so pleased you shadowed her. I would watch her the summers of my college years. I called it “mummy’s lab”. To this day, I shadow her and take notes. She is so joyful like Julia Childs. We are the beneficiaries of her talents and the willing sing song agents to share our collective pride and joy. 😊

      Reply
  6. Dolly Weisserman
    Dolly Weisserman says:

    Abha, you are as wonderful a writer as you are a chef and a doctor! Your words transported me to your mother’s kitchen. What a beautiful tribute to your mother.

    Reply
  7. Susan Thomas
    Susan Thomas says:

    Dr. Abha,
    What a beautiful, loving tribute to your mother. I understand now after reading this, where you get your beautiful soul from. I miss seeing your smiling face and our conversations.
    Warmly,
    Susan

    Reply
    • Dr. Abha
      Dr. Abha says:

      Aw. Much appreciation, Susan. I hope life is keeping you healthy and safe. My mom is quite a special woman and I thank you for your generous message.
      Always,
      Abha

      Reply

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