I can tell what’s for dinner by the smell that wafts through the house. Today, a rich aroma of Indian spices and herbs fills my nose, but I would much rather have mac and cheese from the freezer.
My dad has spent the last two hours cooking fragrant lamb biryani. Call me spoiled, but I never developed a taste for it. But when he heaps the biryani on a plate and places it on the dining table for me, how can I say no? The four of us sit down, and I ask Alexa to play my Hits of the Decade playlist.
My mom asks Alexa to play top Urdu songs from the 70s. Colorful music bubbles through the speakers as the hot steam from the biryani hits my face, and I look down at my plate. The rice is colored with saffron, giving some grains a vibrant yellow hue and other a more muted tone. In a few moments, a spice blend of red chili, cumin, and turmeric will have me downing cup after cup of Snapple to relieve the burn in my mouth. My mom and dad don’t even have water next to them.
Both my parents eat with their hands, but I opt for a spoon. They never forget to remind me how much I’ll get laughed at when we visit India, where there’s not a spoon in sight. “Khala ka masala pass kar do,” says my mom in Urdu-English, asking for my dad to pass a fire-hot masala spice blend made by my grandmother Khala. Most people can spend hours talking to their grandparents when they come over to visit, but us? The last time Khala and Dadi came over, we exchanged a few sentences in broken Urdu before deciding that the language barrier was too much work.
As the spices burn my tongue, I wonder how life would have been if my parents spooned Indian culture down my throat instead of giving me freedom. Maybe I would crave Chana Masala instead of mashed potatoes, tell Alexa to play Kishore Kumar instead of Camila Cabello, use my shovel to dig up my roots instead of bury them.