Cinnamon, chillies, ginger, garlic, cilantro, country chicken, cloves meet for a slow dance. It’s the type of modern dance that makes me shiver. My insides smile and beg for more. Nynamma is making dinner and it’s chicken curry! There’s nothing like the smell of chicken curry being cooked over a tiny gas stove laid on the floor of my grandma’s kitchen in India. Eating with family was a special occasion back then.
Late into the night, we sat on her front veranda with the open sky giving me the freedom to be whomever I wanted, whomever I dreamed to be. I got each piece of chicken personally and specially selected as my favorites. I remember the darkness, the freedom, and the love circling my 5-year-old body. It was these experiences in the village of Narsapur, with my Nynamma next to me, the comfort of her Sari against my arm and her love filled chicken curry that my relationship, my love, my care for the right flavors comes.
When I was 10 years old, my family traveled a long distance and sacrificed being a majority for a better future as a minority in America. As much as the US has given freedoms that I can’t imagine living without, the western world has laid in my lap the guilt of enjoying the flavors that are my identity, my soul, my being. Being a minority and a teen girl who spent most of her time watching TV, listening to music, and looking at Seventeen magazines, I fed my spirit with a different flavor.
So here I am: a grown woman brought up in a household where food makes it a special occasion, where you sit at the table until your plate is crusty simply because you are enjoying the company, who goes outside her home to a world where the calories are counted with each meal, where steamed vegetables are the healthiest option, and lunches are 15-20 minutes. So… I am conflicted about this idea of eating. I love to eat, yet feel like I need to be more healthy. Mind you I am 130 pounds, 30 years, female, 5’ 1”. That’s right, I just printed my weight for the public to see. Female stands out more than the other stats which own me. I am female and thus, ruled by my body. You would think that being a 30 year old teacher would help keep things in perspective. The truth is there are days when I genuinely believe that I am beautiful inside and out. There are days when I see my body as lovely and unique and beautiful. But what I want to know is why can’t I make this feeling last? What is stopping me?
When I begin to answer these questions, immediately I want to blame the media: celebrities with their personal trainers, magazines with the computer slimming programs. Is it fair for me to continue pointing fingers and never looking at me?
- I enjoy eating flavors and textures that burst in my mouth. It is comparable to sex for me. It is spiritual. It is love and life and beauty all in dish.
- I am a curvy woman with a behind that turns heads.
- I am healthy: I dance, I workout, and eat healthy flavorful dishes.
- I occasionally enjoy unhealthy dishes.
- I love desserts. I love experimenting with desserts.
- I have a strong body.
- I am a teacher who hasn’t learned the art of balance quite yet.
- I am human.
- I am my grandmother’s granddaughter.
- Eating good food is a priority for me.
If these are the facts, what is stopping me from loving myself, from accepting myself? The reality is my past experiences of comparing myself to others, needing others’ approval, needing others’ to say that I am beautiful take over my mind sometimes and block my self-love.
SELF LOVE: I used think these were the cheesiest two words in the English language, when written next to each other. But, I had it on my grandma’s veranda at the age of 5. I loved myself enough to dream, to feel infinite.
Why can’t I have it again? It only takes awareness and acknowledgment to reclaim that feeling. I was infinite once. It still exists in my soul. I feel it when I stand alone on the New England coast. I feel it walking the streets of New York City. I feel it eating BBQ in Birmingham. I feel it eating an arepa at Caracas in NYC. It’s time for me to open that door to the closet of infinity, beauty, love. I am ready. Ready to begin to clean out the blocking experiences: thoughts, and feelings of my teenage and college years. I am ready to be that 5-year-old dreamer. I may never cook chicken curry with the bursting, spiritual flavors that my grandma cooked, but I do believe that I have a chance at seeing myself and willingly receiving myself (30 year old, 130 pound, curvy, short, Indian, teacher, writer, poet, dancer, cook, artist) for who I am today. Let it begin. Let the journey begin this minute, this second, this moment.