The first time I had desi food in this city, I was really craving some semblance of home. I didn’t like the way my dorm dining halls closed at 8pm, and yes, I lived in New York, but I was a freshman, I didn’t know how to get my own food. Coming from a desi household, food was a communal thing. Now, I’m thrown into ‘The City That Never Sleeps’ and anonymity is grabbing me by the neck, and choking me. I don’t know how to feel. And that is why I think a lot of desi kids go over to one extreme, that of religion, or the other, that of drugs, drinking, partying, when they land here. First time I had desi food, I was struggling with the concept of not having communal meals anymore. I couldn’t see my father, slowly eating his boiled rice, and healthy things, I couldn’t take to my mother, and tell her about my day, I couldn’t tell the cook how good the food was, and watch her face light up, I couldn’t elbow my brother and show him the invisible half-line of the table, where ‘his side’ of the table started. And couldn’t tell him and his elbows not to encroach on mine.
So the first time I had desi food in the city, I was very sick for home, yes, even for my brother. A little bit. I was so homesick, that as a freshman, I decided to go to Jackson Heights, the essence of all things desi in Amreeka.
I made a plan with friends, because going alone would have just been sad. Sad! I took two of my best friends along, Ammar and Shajeel. We were wearing the fobbiest things, looking so fobby. I cringe but also laugh when Facebook shows me those photos. Because those were days of newness, of adventure. Right now, I can only write about the first time I went to Jackson Heights.
We stepped off the subway station, to a whole new world. The first thing to greet us was a desi barber store, before we even got out of the subway. Just brown people cutting the hair of brown people, prices proclaimed outside the door, very loudly, because they knew they were cheaper those in the city. A flower ship that was desi, and I don’t know how flowers can be desi but it just was. You ever get that feeling? And then we walked outside. Shah Rukh Khan greeted us, sporting a TagHeuer, and my heart leapt for joy. Yes, very fobby. But I was homesick, I missed my mother, I missed my food, can you blame me?
And we walked to the place, fortunately, we knew how to use Google Maps, so it only took us six minutes for a two minute walk (we got lost, a couple of times). But we walk to the store, and my eyes are drawn to the opposite side as often happens in New York - there’s so much to see, your eyes just learn to flit from here to there – and across from Dera, I see a Gourmet. And at this point, my heart is doing cartwheels. How many times do you see a local chain in another country? The same font, the same color, the same setting of mithai in the window. I was so ecstatic, I dragged my weary friends there.