we know that food is love, but do we ever stop and think who taught us that beautiful expression in the first place? for me, the teacher was and always will be my nani.
every summer growing up, my mom would bring my brother and i to new delhi for a few months. we didn’t have many friends, didn’t really care about indian food yet and mostly sat around playing with the family dog - before we grew up and just complained about the heat. all the basics.
what my mom probably didn’t realize - or maybe she did - is that the new delhi house became our world, and my nani - the only one home with us during the day - became the narrator of our days. of course, most of her plot points were around food.
when we were bored, she’d toss us a few cents to go to the bobby store to pick up cadbury chocolate. when we were hungry, she’d let us skip eating rajma chawal and instead secretly make us naan pizzas. and if it was a weekend, or just a night where we were particularly antsy, she’d fry up potato wedges, give our then pathetic american tastebuds some heaven by surfacing plain ketchup.
the love language didn’t change as she got older, and eventually bedridden. the coin purse was always near the bed so she could give us coins without my nana (or worse, my mom and dad) noticing. i remember her sitting in bed making the ingredients for the naan pizza, so that even if she had to give directions to whoever was in the kitchen, the shapes of the peppers and the tomatoes would be as she preferred. as we started to like indian food more, the potato wedges were replaced by aloo parathas.
we eventually stopped going to india every summer because of school and work and life, which meant years without food from her. through the pandemic, and way too many renditions of aloo gobi, i’ve been able to share with her my takes on indian classics. she’s been impressed with my aloo parathas.
this week, my nani left this world and this is what i can’t stop thinking about - the fact that she never let us visit without feeding us something made from her own hand. that despite language barriers, and our lame tastebuds, and our lack of appreciation of the time that we’d one day cherish in retrospect, she knew that it was important to teach us about ways to meet in the middle. to show up for people. to show people love in whatever way they’re ready to accept at the moment in time.
nani, thank you for the coins, the peppers and plain ketchup. despite language differences, you knew how to speak to us. after all this time, i see what you were doing now. and i hope you and nana have a laugh about how you snuck in so much life to your two bratty grandchildren that visited every summer. i love you, and i’ll miss you forever.