A letter to my daughter (who is still tiny and can’t really read)
When you were tiny — even tinier than you are now — the only times you’d even consider not crying were when you were being held.
I would put you in a sling-like carrier and walk around the house. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn’t, but it was still the best line of defense against your meltdowns.
Life was easier when you were in the carrier than when you were not. And, because you were pretty much attached to my chest at all times, I learned to become comfortable doing all kinds of activities while carrying you.
- ˑ Watching tv shows while carrying you (for example: entire second season of The Expanse).
- ˑ Working on the computer while carrying you (drawing with the mouse gets pretty complicated, though…).
- ˑ Washing dishes while carrying you.
- ˑ Shopping for groceries while carrying you.
- ˑ Peeing while carrying you (very difficult, and I don’t recommend anyone try this at home).
Out of all of these, my favorite was cooking while carrying you. You’d always fall asleep. I don’t know if it was the swaying motion of walking from the fridge to the counter to the stove over and over again. Or, maybe it was the sound of my voice as I described each step of the recipe in as much detail as I could. Or, perhaps it was the metronome-like sound of chopping vegetables that put you to sleep.
I like to think it was the onions. Whenever I chopped onions, I’d whisper, “Close your eyes, peanut, or the onions will make you cry.” But you were often fast asleep already.
I like to think that the sound and smell of onions being chopped made you feel calm. After all, you are a Desi baby, and the love of onions runs deep in our people.
Onions are magical. They’ve been around for a few millennia, yet they are hardly ever the star of any meal; they stay in the back and enable other ingredients to shine. Many of my childhood favorite foods — from biryani to pakora to seekh kabab — owe their deliciousness to onions.
I wonder how you’ll feel about onions when you’re older. I sneak them into your food every now and then, hoping that eating them now will mean that you’ll like them as you grow up.
I think secretly I’m afraid that if you don’t like onions, it will be like rejecting the Desi part of your identity. I’m afraid you’ll feel about onions the way many Westerners do: you’ll complain about the taste being too strong, the smell being too pungent, the texture being too crispy or too tender or stringy. I’m afraid you’ll say you don’t want to visit your grandparents because their house smells like onions or because they eat weird food. I’m afraid the pressure to fit in will make want to hide the things about you that make you Desi. I’m afraid the world is a mess and I have such little control over it.
On difficult days when I’m having a hard time falling asleep, I sometimes think back to when you were tiny — even tinier than you are now — and when I cooked while carrying you in the sling. I picture you calmly asleep with your head against my chest — the smell of sautéed onions in the air. It helps me fall asleep.
Safwat Saleem is an artist and graphic designer. Visit safwatsaleem.com for more of Safwat’s work.