Don’t let those masala movies from Bollywood fool you. We Indians have a hard time showing our affection. You know how in American movies, the soccer mums always send their kids off to school with a big ‘honey, I love you’ followed by a smooch?
If you’re brown (doesn’t matter what shade), you probably had quite a different experience. Your mum barely ever told you she loved you. If she does give you a kiss on the cheek – you’re most likely confused and unsure how to respond.
But what your mother did do… was stuff your lunchbox with enough food to feed a soccer team.
(Dabbawalas delivering tiffins in Mumbai. Image courtesy of Steve Evans.)
If we Indians like you – we’ll feed you. Full stop. Actually not quite – we’ll overfeed you. Oh yes. We’ll feed you till the point that you’re begging us to stop.
“No no, that’s enough,” he said.
“But I insist…” she said.
God help us all.
“It all starts with the mothers,” Fiona tells me over Skype. “The chapatis that my mum makes: they’re the perfect ratio of ghee, flour and water. She makes them so fast like a machine but they always taste great.
“Rolling out the pastry. Flying it out one by one. It takes time. She only makes it for us because we like it. Chapatis are labour-intensive, so it’s a special thing.”
(Every round chapati is a work of art. A thing of perfection.)
Tell me about it. I only yank out the chapatis for people who’ve proven they’re worthy. It isn’t for everyone. If I’ve made you a chapati – you better know you’re special.
Like many Indian mothers, Fiona’s mum cooks her ‘tried and trusted’ recipes everyday. We Indians show our love with our actions, and not our words. ‘I love yous’ aren’t cheap to us. On the contrary, it’s a heavy sentiment that comes with a lot of responsibility.
“I cracked the code,” Fiona says. “In our parents’ generation, they don’t walk to talk it out. It’s like ‘why are you wasting time. Let’s move on’. Their generation had bigger things to deal with. To them it’s like, ‘It’s ok. It happened. Next step’. They got married young and looked after the family and kids.”
That was their life. Our generation is different.
“These days, Indian girls are loud,” Fiona says. “Yourself included.”
I laugh. I’ve been described as ‘aggressive’ more times than I care to admit.
“They’re clear on what they want and how they want things to be,” Fiona continues. “If you cross the line with one of them – that’s it.
“You know – I think that’s the biggest difference between westerners and Asians. In the western world, talking about family – especially in a professional setting, is crossing that line. But for Asians, talking about family peppers everything. We tend to bond over family stuff. We all want to know each others’ crazy families.”
And we are all kinds of crazy.
But no matter how mental we get – the ‘I love yous’ mean something to us. It’s not a throwaway word we use to describe ice cream, chocolate and all those other mundane things people say they love.
“Only on very special occasions do I get a very direct ‘I love you’,” Fiona says. “It’s a very special thing when my mother says it. She really means it.”
I hear ya, girl. I hear ya.
Love is as much duty and responsibility as it is passion and love.
“Our generation hasn’t lost that sense of duty,” Fiona says, “but we’re more about the ‘me’. Another generation and then maybe it’s all gone.”
Perhaps. But come what may – I hope there will always be chapati.