Love is the grilled cheese sandwich my mother makes for me, sighing exasperatedly as she pulls the cheese out of the fridge for the third time this week.

Let me explain: when I think of my favorite foods, nothing on the list strikes me as particularly complicated to prepare. I’m passionate about grilled cheese sandwiches. I’ll make them for myself in a pinch, but I especially love when my mother or my grandmother make the sandwiches for me. It’s kind of cheesy (pun slightly intentional), but I feel like I can taste the love that went into making the sandwich.

I’ll get back to the “feeling love” thing later, but you may be wondering why I haven’t written for a while. I actually spent close to five weeks in India this holiday season; I was busy feeling love in all of the homemade food I ate at my relatives’ houses. (And yes, I did enjoy a few grilled cheeses, courtesy of my grandmother.) This India trip was unusual for a few reasons; less than a week after I got there, a cyclone ripped up cables all over the city and left us without electricity, internet, and running water for a few days. And more than a month later, my grandmother apparently still doesn’t have internet!

But there was a silver lining to this whole mess; I was able to accept not being constantly connected to social media. Of course, the lack of internet access made working as a news writer kind of difficult; it’s hard to let people know what’s going on when you don’t actually know. Thankfully my editors gave me the time off. And considering my father spent the first eight years of his life without electricity, and his entire childhood without running water, my “struggles” pale in comparison.

My dad took us to his childhood home today. It was an eye-opening experience. Around 75 people lived in a house with one bathroom and no running water. My house has two and a half bathrooms for four people, so I can't even imagine having to share with so many people. Let alone having to pump water and carry it up the stairs in a bucket every time I needed to drink or bathe or wash my hands. Still, despite such difficulties, my dad obviously had a good time as a kid. He said he never felt like his life was hard back then; he got to go play cricket with his friends on the beach after school. The city was a lot less crowded at the time; now a boutique stands where a building housing cows used to. Don't worry, the 8th century Parthasarathy temple is still there (and no, despite the name it does not belong to my family). Cows continue to roam the city streets, casually making their own ways and leaving vehicles and people alike to navigate around them.

A post shared by Maya Parthasarathy (@mastahfia) on

I spent my time in India with my family, as I always do. I consider moments with my family to be precious, especially since during the trip I was reminded that people do in fact die. While we were there, one of my father’s uncles died, and the following day, one of my mother’s uncles passed away as well. The two uncles were both in their eighties when they moved on, but my family is still dealing with the aftermath.

My grandfather recently fell down and broke a rib, and my grandmothers aren’t free of health problems either. Despite this, all three of them continue to live their lives, with my grandfather heading to the library he’s been helping run for decades instead of quietly resting at my cousins’ place. My maternal grandmother hasn’t given up on an independent life; she gets far more phone calls and visitors than I do, and she continues to attend singing classes and create beautiful art. My paternal grandmother takes care of her family, keeping everyone well-fed, and mastering her smartphone to call us (in my case, everyday through an app during the three weeks I lived alone this year).

But I still feel afraid from time to time. I don’t get to see my grandparents too often, considering I live half the world away from them. I worry that I might go home and never meet them again. When I find myself thinking like this, I remind myself that there’s no point dwelling on what-ifs. Instead, I choose to remind myself how it feels to be loved by my family.

I feel love when my grandmother shuffles over every half hour to make sure I’m not hungry, often brandishing half an orange or a colorful sweet. I feel love when she saves mangoes from the rest of the family for me, remembering how much I love them pickled. And how can I forget the time as a child I hung my pants over the bathroom door and my brother stole them? I didn’t expect my grandmother to so effectively chase down my brother, but she did, and she got my pants back to me after giving him quite the scolding.

I feel love when my grandfather offers me my pick from books that haven’t been added to the library yet. I feel love when he agrees, against his principles, to take an auto rickshaw home instead of the crowded city bus, just to reduce our worries. I feel love (and I also feel slightly ashamed of myself for not realizing) when I’m sitting where he’s planning on sleeping, but he’s too nice to tell me to move.

I feel love when my grandmother gets excited to see me try on clothes, and when she tells me to buy half the store. (I have to refuse, obviously, but I so rarely feel good about buying clothes that going with her is a treat.) I feel love when she tells me that my weight doesn’t matter, and that I should ignore judgmental people. I feel love when she tells me stories about my late grandfather, and my mother when she was growing up.

There are so many other moments that remind me of the love I constantly receive from my family members and my friends. I’m very grateful to be able to spend time with my extended family despite living across the world from them. There will likely always be times when I feel insecure and alone, but I plan on using memories of the love people have shown me to get myself over those bumps in the road, just as I always have.

Images: Partha Narasimhan, Maya Parthasarathy

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