Much of South Asian literature is themed around food – milk and honey, saffron and cinnamon, jalebis and gulab jamuns, turmeric and mangos. Our food is electric in hues, decadent, an explosion of flavour, medicinal in nature.
I get why food takes centre stage in South Asian literature; alot of our parents expressed their love through food. While South Asian cooking is a part of my identity – after all, our ancestral land was colonized in some part for those commodities – it’s not a significant part of my story as a person.
Don’t get me wrong, the food related stories from my fellow South Asians are beautiful, and so needed – the imagery is vibrant, tangible, real. But I wanted to explore realities beyond that idea of what it means to be South Asian and in my particular case, Pakistani.
I’m crying out for stories about what it means to have Pakistani parents who I don’t identify themselves as immigrants first, who aren’t written about for the masala on their fingers or their ability to make a fire biryani. My writing just doesn’t fit the South Asian genre I see on the library shelves, and that is okay. I wanted to think about what else belongs on the shelf.
I wrote the this little poem (below) as a start.
I am more than spices, mango in the summer, cinnamon in the winter, cardamom to feel good, cloves for a cold
There is so much more to my heritage than magic ingredients
My humanity runs far deeper than spices and chai
More than the saffron, the cumin, turmeric that would stain my fingers if only I were a woman who was at home in the kitchen
I’m a product of a prisoner of war
Parents who slept in ditches as bombs rained from the sky
We entertain our co-workers in the pubs one night and place our heads on the prayer mat the next
We abbreviate our names for the sake of others
Split identity depending on the place
We bend, adapt, we know how to survive
From Lahore to London we became resilience personified
We are more than our commodities
This poem has now been republished at SisterHood Magazine.