It felt like a punch to the gut: “Your grandparents are from Sindh. You’re Pakistani. You don’t belong here.” My classmates didn’t know any better when they made these remarks. Nearly 15 years later, those words are still loud and clear in my mind.
Being Sindhi meant having Sindhi kadhi on Sundays, my surname ending with ‘ani’ and dancing to “Dama Dam Mast Qalandar” at a wedding. But I was clueless about the bigger questions: Where did we come from? What are the origins of our food? My knowledge of my roots started and ended with the Partition of India and the world’s largest recorded cross-border migration when Hindus from Sindh in Pakistan were among the millions displaced.
Things took a turn in the summer of 2017. I was to leave our family home in South Mumbai to pursue a master’s degree in Chicago, but on one condition: I learn how to cook. My mother is a consummate home chef, but she is impatient while teaching. I had no culinary instinct. I panicked while turning on the burner! So after failing to teach me how to crack an egg, she packed me off to the place she mastered cooking: my grandmother’s home in Mumbai’s suburb of Andheri.
For my grandma, Vidya Gobind Samtani, preparing a meal wasn’t just to stave off hunger; the rituals of the kitchen comforted her. It never occurred to her that I wasn’t as ecstatic to spend an entire afternoon over a hot stove. But she was warm and patient, and when I’d make a mistake, she’d pat my back with her floury hands. That was enough to keep me there.
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June - July 2020