Excerpt from How I Met My Dead Grandparents, an essay collection proposal by Krish Jeyakumar
Over the next few months we will be celebrating the work of the shortlisted authors from our 2021 call for essay collections. Excerpts from their proposals will be showcased here on our blog. Excerpts have been left largely unedited, aside from minor changes to formatting and typos. This is to give a sense of the wide variety of writing that engaged us during the reading of submissions. All of the entries were unique, and interested us for different reasons.
Krish Jeyakumar is a queer person of colour. Their work looks at queerness and gender, especially in Vedic scripture and Dravidian history. They write about food via their Instagram @krishdoesfood. They are interested in ideas of pleasure, decadence, and hope, and in writing about marginalised identities which doesn’t centre trauma.
I was eating raal porrial – fried prawns. I was licking the end of my finger and running it around the plate to pick up the remnants of salt and fried curry powder when Amma said, “You do that just like your grandfather did.”
I had to sit down and take a moment to recover.
I’ve always believed that food is a vital form of nourishment – not only for our bodies but as a connection to our history, our culture, and the people who have shaped us. Food has been used as a tool by revolutionaries; food is a record of the past; food is a way of connecting with others. But it wasn’t until this moment that I realised it could be the bridge between me and four people who died before I was born.
My mum’s mum was called Leela. She died when my mum was 13 after getting cholera on a pilgrimage to a temple in India. She was heavily against the caste system.
My mum’s dad was called Suppiah and his favorite drink was palmyra tree toddy. He lived for many years after his wife died but never remarried.
My dad’s dad was called Coomarasamy. He was tall, had many children, was the head of a tea leaf working family, and had a snake tattoo up his arm.
My dad’s mum was called Luxmi. She didn’t cook much.
After both leaving Sri Lanka in their early 20s, my parents never really spoke about the motherland or the trauma associated with it. My grandparents all died before I had a chance to meet them, and until the beginning of isolation, the sentences above were pretty much all I knew about them.
Over the last year and a half, I’ve cultivated my relationship with my heritage through food. Not only have I had more time to cook and get familiar with the basics of Tamil cuisine, but the time I’ve spent in the kitchen with my parents has led to me hearing more phrases like, “Your grandfather loved that dish,” or “You cook this just like your grandmother did.” As I’ve learned about the foods my grandparents loved, and the lessons they taught my parents, it’s like I’ve met my dead grandparents for the first time.