I randomly walk around the kitchen, bugging my mom to let me see and smell what she is cooking. After much coaxing, she finally lifts the plate covering the kadhai, and the aroma of freshly cooked paneer bhurji hits my nostrils and floods me with memories of my younger years.
How we used to go to a restaurant over in Sunnyvale, called Bhavika, in our oversized Toyota Sienna. How, on entering, the numerous smells of rotis being coated in flour and the wonderful aromas of rajma or the occasional paneer bhurji (always my favorite) wafting around would fill me with an almost mouthwatering dizziness, increasing my hunger a hundredfold. How the kind, welcoming, Gujurati-accented grandpa’s (owner of the restaurant) face would light up with a smile as he recognized my dad, exclaiming, “Aao, Manish bhai!”
Those were the years following my mother’s neck surgery, rendering her pretty much helpless, unable to do anything. Forget about doing her usual work (cooking, helping me study, taking care of my baby sister), she couldn’t get up from her specially motorized bed to hug and kiss me goodnight.
I didn’t really understand the gravity of the situation then. Why my dad stayed at home more often, why we would make those frequent trips to the Stanford hospital and even sometimes stay the night there. I didn’t get why my mom had to wear the heavy neck brace, why there was a scary-looking scar on her neck, and why her face would sometimes contort into an expression of immense pain. I couldn’t comprehend it at all. Why is Aai lying on the bed all the time? Why can’t she cook me my favorite food when I want it? My dad tried his best to make everything seem normal, but nothing was the same anymore.
A year passed. My mom’s health was gradually improving, but she still had to take numerous pills that would make her feel sleepy throughout the day. She could get up and walk now, and hug me goodnight and occasionally tell me a story. That was the best thing in the world for me. Things were shifting back to ‘normal’.
Then, in a couple of years, it was suddenly goodbye to California and hello to Pune. I left behind my fledgling middle school life, all my friends that I had known from the 1st grade, and made weak promises to stay in touch. I tried to stay positive in India, but it was difficult. Adjusting to the new school, adapting to the differing methods of teaching and making new friends was a big process for me. I would cry incessantly, screaming that I wanted to go back, that I hated it here. But gradually as time passed, I made better friends with similar interests to mine. I eventually became a favorite of almost all of my teachers. I discovered hidden talents within me and began to work on nurturing them. My life became much better, and I began to see the in-betweens. The significance of our big move: we needed mutual support from our relatives. So that if anything happened, there should be someone around so that my parents wouldn’t feel emotionally alone (and physically around 8,000 kilometers away).
My mom still feels guilty for no reason. She would always feel that, because of her health, my sister and I were ‘deprived’ of a childhood. She wouldn’t remember our earlier golden days. She didn’t realize that, without feeling a small lack, how would anyone appreciate something so precious? My mom and I cherish those small mommy-and-me moments (yes, we still have those) and I have learned to live with those superficial ‘banes’. It’s okay to sometimes sweep the floor in the morning so that she won’t have to do it. She has sacrificed so much for me, and I want her to know that even if her back hurts once in a while and she feels tired because of the influence of the medicines, I am there for her. I will help her out, just as she has done for me, countless times. I want her to know that she means the world to me.
So now, before I proceed to dig into the delicious meal in front of me, I say, “Thank you Aai. You really made my day.” And she really did.
These small nostalgic moments leave me feeling kinda sad sometimes. But I don’t bother. I have wayyy more things to be happy about.