Mashitshila Longkumer: Nostalgia is the most powerful ingredient

One of my favorite films of all time is ‘Ratatouille’. This film had this one scene where Ego, the critic, eats the ratatouille that Remy makes and is transported back to his childhood, a place of warmth and love for him. I feel like that’s what good food should do, it should take you to one of your fondest memories. 

So, to me, this topic of food came so naturally, and I really wanted to explore this with my colleagues because of my own relationship with food and home.

Sharing a meal to me meant that it was time for the whole family to gather at the dinner table. As someone who comes from a family of seven, the meal table was always loud, different conversations happening at each part of the table and food being passed around like chess pieces on a board – all very strategically placed. Lun (chutney) next to the rice, spicy pork placed right next to a pot of boiled vegetables, hard boiled eggs in salty dry fish curry – all the food always complimented each other. It folded beautifully together. Food is fulfilling, food is community, food is identity, and most importantly, food is also family. 

When we began the India-UK Creative Industries at 75 Project, while scrambling for ideas, my colleagues and I simply stumbled upon the topic of food. Maybe we had just watched too many food shows and documentaries, but all of us felt like food was a common ground for us. We wanted to focus on the memories, nostalgia, emotions, and identity attached to food. 

Food is comfort, love, a peace offering. We really wanted to brush upon the subject of migration and the food of a people; how people carry their memories, legacies, their culture with them even when moving to a completely different place. Food is passed down like all our traditions, it is a part of who we are. Sometimes people are forced to leave their homes, and at times there can be a lot of trauma attached to it. But when people talk about food, something that reminds them of home, a feeling of the storm settles, and home is a warm plate of food, can be observed and their faces light up; just like when we interviewed Aqui and Gurmail. While their stories of migration weren’t always the easiest, their memories of home and cooking with their families were always so full of delight. To me, the opportunity to work on this project with my colleagues was a real joy. To listen to Gurmail’s journey, and Aqui’s (whom I personally interviewed), Aqui’s story of home and the hills reminded me of my own.

Where I come from is very important to me, the naga heritage, the culture, the clans, which give me a sense of belonging. For the longest time, ever since I pursued my studies in the mainland, I didn’t want to associate with the fact that I am different. So, sometimes I didn’t know how to be proud of it. But over time and significant growth, I understood that, I have somewhere to turn to, a place to call home. I carry so much pride with me now.

During our interview, Aqui had made it a point to mention that the two of us do not call the same place home. Within the northeast, there are eight states; seven sisters and sikkim, and among them, are different tribes and different communities, who have different cultures and beginnings. As Aqui mentioned, we’re both from the Northeast, but we share different ancestry. It is important to know that there are different stories that we in the northeast have to say and tell. We are not all the same. But we always stand together against the discrimination we face as a group. 

Community is important.

Aqui had told me that she keeps a secret stash of home food (which can be dried beef/pork which can be made into the most comforting stew), for days that feel lonelier or harder than others. That’s the kind of comfort that I know food provides. In moments like that, I feel like food really does bring people together - it’s comforting. It’s like a warm hug for a tough day, a reminder that I’m never alone and that home, although far away, is always there for me. And ultimately, the strong connection that food has to our roots.

Mashitshila Longkumer