‘I had cooked my way across the entire breadth of the US’

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A series on true experiences

EAT. PRAY. LOVE

I LAY ON the hallway floor in pain. I could not move my right ankle. We had been arguing, as usual. What was the other woman doing here? Why did he still want me in his life?

I threw his CDs across the room. He grabbed me and slapped me across my face. I pushed him away. He kicked me and I fell backwards. That’s when I heard it snap. I had broken my leg. And he shut the door and left with her.

Illustration: Samia Singh

How could this happen to me? I was a smart, lovely girl who went to one of the top universities in the US, had a fantastic job and was supposed to be living the American Dream. How did I get here? In the months ahead, as I lay in bed at my relative’s house, I wondered. A lot.

The beatings had started a year ago, when I first realised he had lost his job and the financial burden was hard for me to handle. I still did not leave. Then I found out I was pregnant and decided not to go through with it. It broke him.

We stopped having sex. I dived into a mad depression. I finally asked him to leave and ended up holding on to him even harder. I was a wreck, I stalked him, watched him from a distance as he would talk to other women — jealous, hurt, miserable, manic and unable to let go.

As I lay on my relative’s bed, something inside me snapped that night. I was a 30-year-old woman, living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. What was this crazy dependence about? Suddenly, I did not need him. Despite the broken leg, crutches and the painful burning sensation at night, I did not need him. At my weakest I was feeling my strongest. I had to learn how to walk again. It was a slow, painful process.

Once I healed, I packed my house and shipped everything home to India. It took two weeks. I put in my papers at work. I had decided to move back to the safety of my parents’ home. I was all ready to leave the US, when I realised if I left like this, I would always be bitter about my experience. I may never be able to return.

I postponed my ticket for another six months and with just one suitcase I decided to travel across the country. The idea was to couch-surf in exchange for cooking meals. It would be an opportunity to see new things, meet new people, visit new cities, date maybe (though I was not ready for that), interview with design firms.

I started with Austin, San Antonio, Fort Worth, and Dallas, and went all the way up to New Mexico. Then I flew to New York City and drove to Pittsburgh, all the way back to Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Milwaukee. I went to Kansas City to see the incredible extension of the museum designed by Steven Holl. Then I moved to Salt Lake City, where I saw the flattest land on earth, Los Angeles and back to New York and my final stop was Chicago.

I felt much better. I had cooked on my way across the country — chicken curry, mutton curry, omelettes, scrambled eggs, shrimp rice, pork chops and apple sauce, beef strips with fish sauce, grilled vegetables, pulao, steamed salmon, beautiful salads, sandwiches, turkey chilli soup, beef shank stew, oxtail, eggplant, okra and other simple dishes in exchange for a couch to sleep on. Many were friends, friends of friends, cousins, extended family and a few strangers. My Facebook friends’ list grew longer — it was the easiest way to get in touch with people. It was the most exciting thing I had done in my life. New friends and strong relations were furnished and my mind was positive.

I was ready for home. I said my goodbyes to this marvellous country of dreams and aspirations, my home for the past nine years. I waved my hands as we took off from O’Hare to Mumbai. I will come back.

CS is a 32-year-old artist, designer and food blogger based in Mumbai.

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