How selfish would it be if I only talk about my struggles? As a child, I didn’t have much to risk or to lose when we moved from India to America. My parents were the ones who actually gave up on things. A lot of things. They started their lives there and became very well off and were surrounded by lots of friends and relatives. They had to sacrifice all of it for me and my sister. It was a matter of choice, and they picked us over their well-settled life. My mom and dad worked for Reliance Company for 25 years in their fields. An Indian educational degree or work experience counts as zero here in America, hence they had to start from scratch. They worked at places that had nothing to do with their education. Initially, they worked nights, and we rarely saw them, but we made sure that we had weekend breakfast together. It is incredible how parents can do all of this so selflessly, and that too with so much love. To every parent(s) who changed his/her whole lifestyle for our betterment, we all owe you big time.
Moving to America at the age of 12 was a bit difficult and quite overwhelming. The first challenge I faced was during the bus ride from home to school. I was the last one to be picked up, hence most of the seats were taken. There was one 3 seaters and one 2 seaters; taken by a single person. When I went up to have a seat, either they would 1) pretend to be sleeping (literally lying on the entire seat), or 2) pretend to be on the phone, or 3) pretend to do homework while taking up the entire space with books and an open bag. It was only my first week in America so you can only imagine how confusing and alienating it was for a 12-year-old girl who’s totally new to the US and its teenage culture. I had to walk back and forth asking kids to let me have a seat or go to the bus driver for help, and that barely helped. It was very tough to express myself to them because I was still learning the language. I went to a Gujarat Medium school in India, where primarily everything was taught in Gujarati. This added another setback because, by the time they said something, I was still processing their words and its meaning. I remember there was a girl named Jessica, who would ride in the bus once/twice a week. She would let me sit with her or help me find a seat. So every night I would ask my mum "mane seat malshene? (I will get a place to sit in the bus tomorrow, right?)", and hope to find Jessica on the bus the next day. Even though it wasn’t much for Jessica, her presence on the bus just helped me to start my day a lot better. I hope I become someone’s “Jessica” at least once in my lifetime, bringing a ray of hope.
As a child, I used to sit on the countertop while my grandma cooked. I loved watching her cook for the family. I remember she used to give me little green vegetables to play with; I used to get a pot and pretend to cook. My first actual kitchen experience was when I kneaded Bhakri dough by myself when I was 8 years old. Years passed and we moved to America in 2007. I always looked for ways to reconnect with my grandma, and I found it through cooking. I believe food is a very powerful source to bring back memories. I started off recreating her recipes which took me down to the memories and the time I spent with her. Through this, I discovered that I actually love the process of cooking: running the knife against the cutting board to get the perfectly chopped tomatoes, the smell of dancing mustard seeds, sizzling sound of vegetables, tasting for different flavor palates, plating for a visual treat, capturing the flavors in a picture and finally eating the food with family. I began sharing my food pictures on Instagram (@flavoritup) and met people whose happy place was a kitchen. For me, food becomes a source to travel to India and other countries all just from my kitchen. It brings all five senses alive and connects right to the heart. So, thank you ba, grandmother, for planting the seed in me to be where I am today and hopefully, I inspire my generation to appreciate Indian food as you did for me.