Growing up I had two mums: birth-giver and caretaker. While my birth mum came home almost every day, she worked very long hours, and so I spent most of my time with my Indian nanny: Geeta. My mum also spent several years in residency school training for her medical profession and was required to spent many nights away from home. I spent far more time with Geeta than my mother from before I entered kindergarten to the end of my Junior year of high school. I even used to call Geeta “mom” constantly by mistake which would upset my actual mother. Geeta was from India, and had spent most of her life there. As such, Geeta raised me and my siblings with different values and a different set of worldviews involving food. Food may seem like an insignificant factor in your life, but in mine, it has shaped me as a person.
Growing up, we weren’t allowed to throw out food or even speak to one another during meal time. Food is a privilege, not a right is what we were taught. Geeta made my siblings and I eat every crumb of food in silence: just as her dad made her growing up. Focus should be on the food not the conversation. She would always say, “people are sick and dying for food”. We were each expected to consume all the food presented to us on our plates, under threat of being struck by the large wooden spoon I now use to cook pasta at home. When we’d start to chatter or argue during dinner (as children often do) she would grab that spoon or her favorite frying pan and lift it up as if preparing to strike.
Geeta was also a women of pattern. Every day, all those years, we received the exact same meals and meal order without fail. Each exact meal corresponded with a day of the week:
Monday: Stove-cooked steak, microwaved green beans, and sticky, buttery rice with a cup of milk and fruit.
Tuesday: Chicken (sometimes substituted out for awful fish sticks with ketchup), side of pasta and Broccoli with a cup of milk and fruit.
Wednesday: Cannot remember currently.
Thursday (My favorite): Salmon, mixed vegetables, and pasta, with a cup of milk and fruit.
Friday (second favorite): Sliced Hot dog pieces with ketchup, mixed vegetables (from frozen package), and corn, with a cup of milk and fruit.
Food however, wasn’t always my friend. At times, it seemed more of the enemy. Geeta was more traditional in her forms of parenting. She believed children, particularly “stupid boys” needed to be strictly disciplined. One of her signature methods was by using weaponized food she kept in our freezer at all times. I distinctly remember getting into an argument with my brother one afternoon at dinner when we were kids. I cannot recall what the argument was about, however, I remember Geeta shouting and pulling out her bag of ‘Hot Indian chillies’ as she called it. I remember refusing to be silenced and she, as a result, said she would shove the hot peppers into my mouth. I, being the rebellious child that I was, refused to open my mouth. Unfortunately, Geeta always had a solution: she grabbed my nose until I gasped for air, and then squeezed the pepper juice into my mouth. I tried to pretend it wasn’t affecting me, however, I still ended up bursting into tears. To this day I can still hear her telling me, “That’s just the juice”.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Geeta very much and I still remain in contact with her. I have many great memories of her teaching me how to cook various Indian dishes such as chickpeas and dal and watching Tom and Jerry with her as she laughed and clapped each time Jerry the mouse injured Tom the cat. The way she raised me has certainly influenced my life. To this day I still set patterns for myself constantly. I think setting routines for myself helps me feel comfortable and safe. I still feel privileged every time I eat, and to be completely honest, I still get ancy whenever I see someone eat chilies or pass them in the supermarket.