After all these years, I understand the significance of these two memories.
1991. I am eighteen.
He motions his fingers in a way that means, “Hurry.” My father could not wait. His bare feet touch the gray pavement inside his aunt’s home in Boravali, India. When he enters the bungalow, the blue hammock greets him, and the smell of buttered nuts and saffron floats in the air. Even before he sets foot in the kitchen, the green halwa glimmers like a beacon of light inside the room where his aunt feels most at home.
A familiar voice welcomes us on arrival. “Himat, beta, I cannot believe you are here. After so many years living in America, you are finally here. “
A small woman appears, her head covered by her batik-print sari. I trail behind my father, not wanting to interrupt this moment.
My father’s aunt pats him on the back. He kneels down and touches her feet, an Indian custom that demonstrates a signaling of respect for elders. She touches his head as a way to bestow a blessing and slips a large piece of green gooey something into his mouth. Later I learn this halwa isn’t just a favorite Indian sweet, but it is a way for my father to really feel he is home again.
2000. I am twenty-seven.
Sitting at the dining table of my childhood home, I watch as my mother stirs several ingredients into a pan. Her small hands move in a motion of uniform circles and as she looks up, I catch her checking measurements. This is an odd sight to witness because my mother is one of those cooks that relies on instinct. She stares at the corner of the countertop, where I see a small piece of paper.
“Mom, what is that paper? Are you using a recipe?” I ask her, surprise in my voice.
“Yes, Rudri, I am using a recipe. I am making halwa today for your father.” She answers my question without looking up. I suspect she does not want any room for error.
The same aromas I experienced years earlier linger in our kitchen. I realize that my mother has consulted with my father’s aunt to ensure that she does not miss a single step in this special recipe. As she places finishing touches to the halwa, she grabs a silver plate, an exact replica of the one I saw years ago in India.
Every action is purposeful. She wants to recreate that feeling of home again for my father.
When he arrives later that day, I wonder if he can smell the remnants of his roots. I wonder if he remembers the countless conversations he shared with his aunt while swinging on that hammock and eating halwa, staying up until 2:00 a.m. and telling her about life in Texas while she laughs. She is entertained by the adventures he describes, and as happy to hear his voice as he is, to hear her laughter.
How would he react to a part of his past making a reentry into his other “home”?
My father takes a bit of this halwa goodness, and he smiles.
“This is very good, Ranjan, but not quite the same as hers.”
He eats several pieces in silence and I watch as he daydreams, convinced that with one bite alone, he journeys back into his past and relives memories of his childhood in India.
I am certain that the halwa is comparable to what my father’s aunt makes, but his surroundings create an entirely different context. No gray pavement or hammock accessorizes our home. Instead, a Persian rug covers the floor of our living room, knick-knacks from various retail stores decorate our walls, and my mom presents the halwa, smiling, in an American dress.
Admitting that this halwa tastes as good as his aunt’s might diminish his memory of home. Can we ever really go home again?
© Rudri Patel
Rudri Bhatt Patel is a former lawyer turned writer. She spends her days balancing motherhood and writing about culture, grief, and parenting. She is a freelance writer for parenting and cultural sites and is also at work on a memoir about grief and life’s ordinary graces. You can find more of her musings on her blog, Being Rudri.
Part of a series of essays, recipes, and other tidbits on food and love, in celebration of Valentine’s week.
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