There's a glow on your face as you place the piping hot medu vadas, fluffy white idlis, and spicy vermillion sambar on the table. I'm not surprised. In your world, food is an antidote to every problem. In my world, it is the path to pimples, not fitting into skinny jeans, and social ruin.
I pinch a morsel of the idli, brush the tiny crumb against some sambar, and pop it in my mouth. You watch intently for the emotions that may flit past my face. But I perfected the poker face a long time back. When I was made to realize that enjoying food is taboo. That's how you grow fat. That's how you grow uncool, unpopular. That's how you get canceled.
"How is it?" you ask with bated breath.
Dad hollers praises. Chottu swoons, sighing, "yummmm". If it was possible, you become even more radiant.
I shrug and say. "It's ok."
Your face falls. I feel like a sack of bricks just slammed into my gut.
I get up quickly. Not because I'm late for college. Because the aroma is too mesmerizing, tempting me to take a bite. Lulling me, like the satanic demon it is. Telling me another bite won't hurt me. But I know better. I have seen Fatso Fatima and Thick Tanya hurling their guts every morning.
I also know you. You'd hastily run towards the kitchen, promising to cook something low-fat, low-carb, low-everything in a jiffy. I don't think my mind can rebel you any more.
As I walk away, I hope your memory is strong, mom. I hope you remember how I used to lick the plate clean when you made that mango rabri for my 13th birthday. Because I remember those days fondly. How every A grade was celebrated with your famous mutton biryani. How every bruised knee was healed with an extra helping of buttered roti. How my friends (the ones I miss) would aww and croon when I got paneer tikka for lunch because I did all my chores the evening before. Diwali was your favorite festival because you got to prepare the faraal (snacks) and send it to everyone's house. Did you know you'd be grinning like a cat the whole day when the praises of your 'fans' in the building would flow in?
I also remember your nickname for me: rasgulla. It is better than everything I have been called - hot, sexy, babe. But the best parts were lying side by side on the divan and deciding which restaurant we'd try over the weekend. Scrolling through the menu on Zomato and picking up the most unlikely fare we'd eat. I loved seeing your face when we'd try a dish at a restaurant, and you'd go crazy because you couldn't guess the ingredients. Your mood on those days! The whole family had to hide behind the couch as you trampled through the kitchen like a She-hulk trying to figure out how to make the dish. Do you remember when we went to an Indian restaurant, and I ordered a weird item called khandani (family) naan (Indian bread)? It was gross! Naan topped with cream and cashews, tutti frutti (candied fruits) bits, and chocolate chips! Arrgh! Dad was livid that I had wasted money on something inedible. But you lapped it up, loving every chewy sweet bit of it. That's how you've always been. You loved food. You loved me. You had my back.
These memories help me get past the sickening ache in my stomach and quiet the voices in my head.
But on some days, mom, the voices win.
"How will Dheeraj like you if you have a fat ass?" the cool girl trills. I look at myself, revolted at what I see. Slowly, the words and opinions of others erase common sense and better judgment. Avoiding food becomes the answer to longing, loneliness, and despair. That's the thing about desperation, right? It leaves only the wrong choices to select from. I became my worst nightmare somewhere between wanting to be accepted and desperate to feel good. I got into the routine I have now perfected. Puke. Starve. Portion. No..cut off more! Puff…a lot. It helps dampen the gnawing feeling. I still feel gross. I still feel fat. The girl who looks back from the mirror, though. She fits in that tight corset. Doesn't matter if her eyes are dead.
And I know you try to fill the chasm between us by leveling up your cooking skills. I have seen you bother Chottu to help you search for YouTube videos of low-fat recipes. I have heard you call up Seema aunty (though you hate her because she said your chicken salad was too fatty) for vegan recipes. I have seen you nag dad to get that expensive yeast that'd be a substitute for paneer (cheese). I wish you'd stop! Don't you get it? The trend isn't the diet. It is not Keto. Or Paleo. Or whatever Adele did to lose weight. The trend is and always will be: don't eat. Hearing you talk about food makes the hunger more acute. That's when I see red. I feel like I'm drowning. Like I'm dying. That's when I hate you the most. There you go again, talking to some aunty about how to bake the perfect chocolate ganache without eggs and sugar. There you go again saying my fingers are thin like string beans! My face looks like an over-cooked chicken! My body is like a dried drumstick! Can't you see I'm in pain? Aren't mothers supposed to have some intuitive sixth sense? Then why can't you read my mind? You might be saying, "Natasha beta, have some kheer na? It'll make you feel better. Look, I even put chia seeds in it."
But all I hear is: 182 calories.
All I'll taste is: Shame. Guilt. And bile when I throw it all up.
Have we drifted apart so much? Is food the only way we can connect? Can't you see the battle I wage every time I lift the spoon to my mouth? Thinking, what will this piece of food do to me? Will it make my hip bones disappear, my thighs chunky, my stomach bloated, my ankles chubby? I'm frightened because I don't know what I am if I'm not thin? If not, pretty? The funny thing, mom?… I assumed with my weight down, my worth will go up. But it is still there, languishing in the dirt. It tried staggering up to its feet. But then I got trolled for posing with a plate of crispy golden jalebi on Instagram.
Random Person: Hey piggy piggy...scarf scarf...
Best Friend: Ewww...hope you're not eating that!
Boy Friend: Babe! Seriously? We have a bikini party next week!
Suddenly, it lost its footing, stumbled, and collapsed, gasping.
In an ideal world, dear mom, you would have been the best. I'd savor every butter-laden paratha, gulp that thick churned buttermilk and eat spoonful of malai-smothered shrikhand. I would cry out my worries over a steaming cup of chai with extra ginger you'd have prepared as soon as you saw the tears. But my world is filled with reed-thin beautiful demons, and where happily ever afters only exists if you have a thigh gap. Hunger is the measure of success. Bony chest and spindly arms are the marks of beauty. You'll never understand it. Your world and mine will never meet. It is not your fault - or maybe it is. I can't decide. I can't think. The hunger pangs, sharp as razor wire, are tearing me apart, bit by bit. But it's ok. I'm used to it. I just need to sleep. You know what they say? This, too, shall pass.
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Beautiful story, Leena. I think Italian mothers and Indian mothers are cut from the same cloth--they express their love through food. What I love about your story is how you so boldly confront such a difficult subject. I felt the anguish of your main character throughout. And of course, as a female growing up in a society obsessed with thinness and beauty, I can relate to this character's struggle.
Enjoyed the take on the love of food. How sad that it's so true. Well done
I love this story so much, it really helps me think of myself. My family is so put together by food, but I always feel so horrible, like I'm stuffing my face... Thank you for this story, it brought to light how no one is the only one in this situation<3
you tackled an interesting and current issue very well . well done
This was such a powerful piece. You managed to deal with a sensitive and important topic masterfully. Well done!
This was so unexpected! This hit me and the writing is so visual and vivid... esp in the last para, it was truly sad. Your writing evokes a visceral reaction as I was reading it.... Great work...
Thanks Suhana for your kind words!
Oh I loved this! Such a different and refreshing take on the prompt. That's so true... Sometimes one's love of food isn't always a good thing. This is a powerful and a fast read. Plus the descriptions are all mouth watering...well done!
Thanks Kate. Avoidance and issues with food was what I first thought of when I saw the topic. I'm a huge foodie, so have to do justice to the food descriptions :)
What a spectacular direction to take the prompt in! The irony of the mom trying to show her love in exactly the "wrong way" was so poignant. Your detailed description of various foods leaped deliciously off the page. Not sure whether to feel worse for the mother or the narrator!
Thanksb for your feedback... Glad to liked it! most Indian moms feel their mission on Earth is to feed you till your stuffed! I remember I used to both love that my mom could cook so well and be upset because it was hard for me to say no to food...
This is so true! I have been a foodie and this is where I was once upon a time. This story hit me...as you say, 'like a sack of bricks'! Well written one, this one!
Thanks Jenny! I know... food is both comfort and out worst enemy... Same if you are living with a foodie
Really like the morbid take on the prompt.. Well done!
Thanks Uri... This prompt came exactly when I'm on a diet 😊