Our house in Minnesota had lots of visitors. Papa had nine brothers and sisters who had settled in America and one or more of them seemed to always be at our house. Papa’s brothers spent weekends with us, eating heavy Indian meals, talking, laughing and debating. On weekends we all enjoyed mutton curry or spicy keema—which was made with chopped meat. We called our uncles “Chacha” which is the name used for the paternal uncles. Agri Chacha lived out east, Arshid Chacha had settled in the west and the other three lived in the Midwest.
I loved my Salim Chacha because like his brothers he was very handsome and great dresser, but he also drove a shiny, red Jaguar. He was a psychiatrist and was married to an American lady. One Saturday, I wandered into the living room where the brothers sat joking and laughing. On the table I spied a tall glass filled with ice and what I believed was water and I took a long deep pull. Instantly, I realized something was wrong. Tears filled my eyes and my throat burned. Salim Chacha laughed and took his martini from me. Desperately wanting to erase the foul taste from my mouth, I called for “Cheese! Cheese!” Chuckling, Salim Chacha, took me to the kitchen and gave me a slice of cheese. He warned me to ask him before tasting his drinks.
My handsome Salim Chacha died suddenly of a heart attack, one week before I was to have my very first birthday party. I had begged for a party for weeks and finally I was given permission to have one. But when Salim Chacha died, the party was cancelled. It was customary to cancel a celebration when a family member died. I always remember my eighth birthday as a sad day and one when I wished I could hear Salim Chacha’s laugh once more.