TANYA KEWALRAMANI ’15
The cool evening air swept through my hair. It was a welcomed relief. I took a deep breath and sat on the swing on the balcony. The leaves were rustling. I could hear distant chatter from the street near our apartment. Men and women were selling vegetables and fruits on the street. Children were playing with footballs, sticks, cricket balls and stones. All the noise was like music to my ears. This balcony was the only place in the house that was peaceful. All day long, I had heard all sorts of women telling my family and I about how sorry they were for our loss. No matter how many people told us that, they would never fill the hole in our hearts.
My grandfather had passed away a few days ago. At 70, he was the healthiest man I had known. His heart attack was a shock to all of us. Our only consolation was that he had died doing what he loved, playing tennis. He was the light of our family, our hero. He had left us without warning. There was nothing that could be done to fill that. Since his death, our home was filled with people and with food.
My grandmother and her friends would wake up when the morning sunlight was peeking through the clouds. They had the biggest pots and pans I had ever seen. She would throw in some chili powder, garlic paste, turmeric powder, and other spices I had never even heard of before. The strong aroma would wake me up every morning. In the chaos that I felt and was surrounded by, the smells provided me with a sense of comfort, and a schedule. I would wake up, shower, and put on clean clothes. I would then sit with the rest of my family and we would conduct mourning rituals. This took place for thirteen days.
Ironically enough, we never ate the food whilst it was fresh. We were busy meeting people who had come to offer their condolences. We were busy serving them. We were busy pretending like we were fine. It was exhausting pretending to be fine. In all the mess, there was only one time of the day we felt as if we were together, not scrambled everywhere. At 10 o’clock every night, when everyone had left, the only sound that could be heard in the house was the microwave. It was the same meal every night, lentils and rice. We all sat around the table, worn out. It was a hypnotic sadness. No matter what we did, we found it hard to pull ourselves out of it. Yet, while we hungrily attacked the bland food, it somehow brought us closer together. It was the one time of day where we were uninterrupted and through the grieving process we found solidarity.
It really made me think about the power of food. Of course, it soothes hunger. But, there is so much more that it does for us. It is the highlight of any important festival, or occasion. During Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, which is equivalent to our Christmas, my family plans the menu for almost a month. They edit it, finalize it, and then edit it again. The Diwali party at our house involved meticulous planning. The end result is a lavish feast, which results in a sort of food coma. It makes the food coma that much more uncomfortable because of the fancy Indian clothes.
My first Thanksgiving in the United States left me baffled. Everyone bought their turkey several days in advance. Every one of my friends who celebrated Thanksgiving spoke of the food as if they were enchanted. The turkey, the stuffing, the pie. They appeared to be more excited than Christmas. I remember watching a friend of mine cook the turkey. I was too baffled to talk to her. I managed to make a few of the sides, but the turkey really was something else.
Each time that I reach my hometown of Dubai, I have the appetite of a lion. The shawarmas, the hummus, the falafels, the butter chicken, and naan leave me on my bed, unable to move for several hours. More than eating the food, I truly appreciate the time I spend with my family. We make up for four months of being apart. My only job is to sit at the dining table and eat. Simply eating a falafel sandwich in the United States transports me back to Dubai. I can smell the familiar smell of my house. I can almost hear my mother sitting next to me. The power of food is tremendous, because it activates all of our senses without us even realizing it. The power of food truly is wonderful.