I'm overjoyed to bring you the first guest post in this love series authored by my talented student, Aniqa Rahman. In her essay, The Heart Fruit of Bengal, Aniqa writes of the sweet and deep love she shares with her grandmother.
Pomegranate. It is a fruit with infinitely many pieces, tart, crisp, occasionally bitter, with gems of seeds that burst with juice. It is a deep red fruit with chambers like a heart. Unlike an apple or orange, it cannot simply be washed or peeled. No, the pomegranate is a fruit that must be cut and then painstakingly disassembled.
As I watched, my grandmother performed this ritual, squatting on a low stool in her thread-bare sari, sorting the seeds apart from the rind and bitter inner skin. She took her time plucking each precious seed. "Amar Ani," she crooned, "amar colija, amar heart." She smiled down at her busy fingers as she said this.
I was her favorite grandchild, as I was born in a time of particular hardship for the family. I was there when she became a widow, and she found sanctuary in my clear, contented face and the reassuring weight of my little body on her hip. At a time when my world seemed to be crumbling, I found comfort and security in her warm presence. It was a connection that we never lost.
In the decade since the divorce and our move back to the United States, I had grown and changed drastically, but my Bengali vocabulary and syntax were still the stunted language of a three-year-old. Our phone conversations were restricted to the platitudes of "Cammon acho? Amee bhalo." "How are you? I'm good." and "Amee tomakeh bhalo bashi," "I love you." On the other end of the line, my grandmother would laugh, and I would smile broadly, hoping that she would hear it in my voice, but there was so much more I wanted to say to her! I was her granddaughter, but unlike other granddaughters, I couldn't tell her about school or the adventures I'd had with my sister or ask her to tell me stories about when she was a little girl. Now, as we shared this sacred space in the kitchen of our Bangladeshi home, we did not speak. Instead, we simply sat together on the floor as she peeled that heart fruit and crooned at me with sweet words I couldn't understand. When she was finally done, she crushed the red seeds with her hands and poured the juice into a mug. This she held to my lips and I drank, though it was strong, and somewhat bitter.
Expressing love is a tricky thing. It's simple enough to declare love in a statement, but really showing it goes beyond shallow proclamations. Love is expressed through attentive listening and engaged conversation, storytelling, shared jokes and earnest words of advice and solace during hard times. However, when words fail and circumstances distance you from those you care about, how do you reach out? From my relationship with my grandmother, I have learned that love can take many forms - one of those being the tender sharing of fruit in sacred kitchens - the sharing of the deep red, bittersweet heart fruit of Bengal.