Chili Padi

3 March 2019

I use my nose ring to cut in the lunch line. It shouldn’t work, and yet no one confronts me. They would have every right to, but a thin loop of metal in my nose screams “back off!” and I can sidle smugly in front of them, that much closer to my baked potato. Not exactly towering at 5’1”, and weighing in at about 101 pounds, I would not say that I look threatening. However, there are reasons behind my family’s nicknames for me: “chili padi,” a tiny, but dangerous chili and “mirchi,” Hindi for a spicy little pepper.

I am a child of war. Great and terrible and hate and love and red and violent and passionate. I am the byproduct of a passionate war, of two groups more similar than different but locked in battle and too proud to step down. Misguided by their faith and driven by years of resentment, the battle between the Islamic people rages on. Muslims fighting Hindus, Muslims fighting Muslims—India is ravaged. Born into the heart of the madness in Sunflower Hospital, Bombay, India in 1993, I too am great and terrible and hate and love and red and violent and passionate. 1993 was the year Islamic fundamentalists bombed the World Trade Center, the Bombay riots killed around 300 people, an earthquake ripped through India killing almost 10,000 and severe flooding claimed countless other lives. It was brutal, although Shiite and Sunni Muslims have clashed violently for years. Islam split down the middle and diverged into the battling sects.
Culturally, Sunnis marry Sunnis, Shiites marry Shiites. However, in 1989, my mom—Sunni—and my dad—Shiite—blasted away their differences and married. They mucked up their pure Sunni and pure Shiite families and made mutts. Still, soldiers have to know when to back out of a battle—three years later we left India in search of a new, safer homeland. I left behind the language, Islam, the Bombay heat, and a braying donkey I called Nedi. I left Islam buried in my Nani’s soft hug, soft as the words of prayer in Arabic, a language more melodic and calm than any English sound.

Bismillah ar-rahman ar-rahim; In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

Feeling natural, it slips off my tongue in a pattern, to a rhythm like the beating of a classic Bombay downpour. I left my memories of it there to pool into a dirty dust-red gutter, to get swirled and swished around with the monsoon rain.

We left India. Fierce bravery amidst raging riots and murders and arson was one thing; the strength required to leave home and the entire extended family for a better life was another type of bravery. Their bravery is my strength, my sword and shield in battle. These wars I keep inside are my blood, and it is my people’s blood in these wars.

So bring on the stares in the airport, at school in the lunch line, and from everyone else’s parents; I will growl right back. Adversity is the looming building that I know to blast out of my way. My parents have shown me to make those thick walls crumble at my feet. I am a god-less, nose-ring wearing, child of war with the temperament like a red-hot fiery chili.

Nothing can keep me down.

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