Love Like Garlic

The King and His Daughters


There was once a king who had several daughters. To the first he said, "How do you love me?"
"I love you as sugar," said she.
To the next he said, "And how do you love me?"
"I love you as honey," said she.
To the third he said, "And how do you love me?"
"I love you as sherbet," said she.
To the last and youngest he said, "And how do you love me?"
"I love you as salt," said she.
On hearing the answer of his youngest daughter the king frowned, and, as she persisted in repeating it, he drove her out into the forest.
There, when wandering sadly along, she heard the tramping of a horse, and she hid herself in a hollow tree. But the fluttering of her dress betrayed her to the rider, who was a prince, and who instantly fell in love with her and married her.
Some time after, the king, her father, who did not know what had become of her, paid her husband a visit. When he sat down to meat, the princess took care that all the dishes presented to him should be made-up sweets, which he either passed by altogether or merely tasted. He was very hungry, and was longing sorely for something which he could eat, when the princess sent him a dish of common spinach, seasoned with salt, such as farmers eat, and the king signified his pleasure by eating it with relish.
Then the princess threw off her veil, and, revealing herself to her father, said, "Oh my father, I love you as salt. My love may be homely, but it is true, genuine and lasting, and I entreat your forgiveness."
Then the king perceived how great a mistake he had made, and there followed a full reconciliation.

Source: Charles Swynnerton, Indian Nights' Entertainment; or, Folk-Tales from the Upper Indus (London: Elliot Stock, 1892), no. 27, pp. 78-79.
 -From Love Like Salt - folktales of types 923 and 510. Translated and/or edited by D. L. Ashliman

Every summer, as soon as the monsoons arrived in Lahore, so did my paternal aunt and cousins from Faisalabad for three months of story-telling, late-night snacks, PTV drama commentaries, and aiding in the interminable task of completing summer homework. My cousins, several years older than me, used to tell old folktales, stories of their village, a haunted banyan tree, farm life, their 2-mile trek to school each way, weekend trips to the city. I listened to them with fascination. Living in the city, their lives in the village sounded like a rustic vacation. I don't remember most of the stories my cousins told me, but I do recall the one I wrote above clearly. 

After listening to this story, I remember telling my father, who often complained that his daughters didn't show any signs of loving their poor old Papa, that I loved him as much as salt in daal. I followed up with this story, and my father, the writer that he is, butchered my metaphor. He claimed that it simply did not work, because the salt content in our food is always high. The beauty of the metaphor is that even a little salt goes a long way, but it simply didn't apply to our food, he informed me. It wasn't about the quantity of salt, I argued. It was about the quality it gave to the dish. We agreed to disagree. 

Now that I have re-discovered this story, I actually think that the kind of love I crave, want, and give is not like salt at all. Salt represents an overpowering kind of love, it emboldens the dish, or makes it bland, or if used in excess, makes it bitter. It is the trying-too-hard kind of love. Or playing hard-to-get kind of love. It is the stalker kind of love. Or the reckless kind of love. It is the kind of love that dragged me across an ocean to this country at a precarious age for a boy. It is the dangerous kind of love. It is young love. Careless love. Short-lived love. Or overburdened love. It is the love that cuts deep and is often unforgiving, all-consuming, maddening. 

I no longer subscribe to love like salt. Not anymore.

I love differently now and demand that the affection I get in return should be qualitatively distinguishable from love like salt. My love is like garlic. It is like the aroma that lingers outside a kitchen, hovers around windows and screen doors on summer evenings, when the cook throws in a few cloves of garlic into extra-virgin olive oil and the pale pieces begin to turn golden around the edges. It is like the flavor that makes a plain plate of rice superior, delectable, gourmet because it's tossed in sauteed minced garlic. It is the personality change that a pasta dish undergoes when you crush some garlic into the creamy sauce. It is Emeril's BAM!, Rachel Ray's Yummo!, Bobby Flay's throwdown - it is the secret weapon of home-cooks, cooking enthusiasts, chefs and sous chefs and iron chefs, novices, experts, one and all. The metaphor of garlic gives love the flexibility of being subtle or bold. It inspires malleability, patience, forgiveness, sacrifice. It imparts confidence. It stands for a final flourish, a strong statement, a love that pleases the senses, appeases emotions, understands differences. A love that does not cause those who practice it to clash with each other, to break each other, to embitter each other. I am talking about a responsible kind of love. A respectful kind of love. The enough kind of love. A love that says "It's OK!" or "I love you just because" or "I'm sorry." A love that does not compete or compare or demean or judge.

I love this kind of love. Love like garlic, a humble ingredient that gives all of its essence to the dish it is added to, never compromising its personality, never losing the richness of its flavor

Photos by Rebecca McCue