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Meals We’ve Had – A Father’s Day story

written by Sanaa Mughal 14th June 2019

My dad loves restaurants. Or maybe, he loves the concept of a restaurant. So much so that running a restaurant has been a dream of his, a dream that he has achieved, over and over again, with multiple failures, shutdowns until finally, at the age of 58, he had a winner, and not even in his field of expertise. But more on that later.

My father, like all dads (it’s almost stereotypical) is a man of many words but in matters of fatherhood, his silence speaks volumes. There are no “I love you’s” and the hugs are awkward, to say the least, for the both of us. He is almost the definition of ‘gruff’ and reserves his most social self for his son, and now grandsons. I don’t fault him for that though. 

My father is not a man of this time. When I close my eyes and picture my dad, he’s not here. He’s in a fantasy land of wonder and invention, a place where he is drowning in ideas and creations so magnificent, he doesn’t have the mind space to look up and wonder who is around him. When he’s cooking, his knobbly skinny hands move at a pace I can’t track. When I tentatively step into the kitchen and ask “Dad, do you need help?” he looks up, surprised that I managed to enter his realm of thought, pauses for a bit then replies with a simple “Hmm”. I still don’t know if it means yes or no.

When he’s eating, he’s so focused on the green chilli in his hand that when we ask “Dad! Can you pass the salt?” he doesn’t hear it. He’s not ignoring us, he just really loves the chilli and will randomly look up and say “Dogenay, have this,” and will plop his half-eaten chilli on my plate and walk away. I’ll only notice later that he finished my drink and sneakily left some of his food on my plate. Sometimes when he’s in a playful mood, he’ll wipe his hands on my hair and I’ll yelp “Dad!” but he’s already gone.

Even in his almost dazed state, without knowing it, my dad created a family of foodies. My mother says her cooking skills improved because my dad has a specific palette and this runs through to the rest of my family. My brother is a professional chef and has the same passion my father has for food. My sisters cook like they’re on a Food Network show and my nephews have declared multiple times that they want to be chefs when they grow up. We’re all annoyingly specific on which restaurants we like and which we don’t, and don’t even bring up chicken tikka unless you want to get a lecture in line with: the Mughal’s don’t go to restaurants because we make better food at home.

We’ve owned Indian curry house restaurants, Indian barbeque restaurants, a Chinese food take away restaurant and now a Pizzeria. For an outsider looking in, this looks chaotic, the ideas of a chaotic mind (Maybe) but for the family, we know it’s the result of food that my dad loves. He loves butter chicken curry, made it at home and voila! He makes it better and decides he’ll make his own restaurant. He loves chicken tikka so of course, he can make it exactly how it’s supposed to be made. With pizza… that’s an even weirder story that stays in the family. That’s dad for you, a man of trial and error, and even if the gods came down and demanded he stop, I doubt he would heed their warning. 

My relationship with food, however, is a bit different. I have spent years avoiding the food industry only to realize that internet emo quotes might be right, you really can’t run away from who you are. Those words are haunting me more and more every day. I don’t know how this happened, but I eat like my father; enough green chillies to scare people away and an odd taste for spicy and sweet mixed all together. Biryani with sweet rice and yoghurt, yes please! Black daal with heaps of butter on top and chapatis? Of course. Chilli potatoes on those cold lazy days? That too. On rainy days, I, like him, look towards my mother and ask her for bhajias and hot hot tea. And sometimes, people tell me I act like I’m not actually ‘Here’.

Father’s aren’t easy. That’s what I feel when I hear my father talk about his father, muttering to himself, memories of his past coming up in the weirdest moments. In the midst of that noise, he focuses on me and says “You’re lucky I am not my father.” Sometimes I don’t want to know more, sometimes he tells me anyway. He’s right, I am lucky. Either way, it’s not easy. I do wish for a closer relationship, I wish eating spicy food or writing about him were not one of the few things that make me feel closer to him.

Dad is always in the clouds, re-inventing, fixing, imagining and in the few moments when he focuses and lets me into his world, that’s when I feel the luckiest. 

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