Written by Nandini Sethi
There’s an energy in the air,
A comforting, warm, blanketing sense of home,
That comes from a special, secluded room,
Our broken-down kitchen.
The cackling of onions in oil,
The smell of cooking – garlic in the pan,
The overpowering taste of turmeric without having had any,
And the sight of reds, yellows, greens, lighting up the blackened stoves and rusted vessels.
Tiptoeing over burning pots and annular spatulas,
I struggle to get a whiff of the one thing that I want,
The one thing that can feel like home anywhere,
Whether stranded deserts or frozen lakes in inhabitable lands.
I can see the table being set,
With a hundred other dishes,
Potatoes, cheese, aromatic pickles and a thousand cut vegetables,
But I can’t take my eyes, or any of my other senses,
Off, from the one true love of my life.
As is in customary household tradition,
Our table was separate from the adults,
And by the time they were done eating,
I was heartbroken to have found that it was all over.
The one thing I had been looking forward to,
The one thing I had stepped on broken stools to help cook,
Eyes welled with unshed tears,
Silently, I ate other delicious food,
Pretending it to be what I wanted,
Fooling my mouth to disguise a taste: the flavour of home.
When after all guests leave,
Ma comes with her usual adrenaline rush,
Thrusting brooms and mops in our hands,
Asking us to clean up like good children.
It’s all done,
We’re left exhausted,
Mouths hurting from mindless smiles,
And eyes drooping from endless conversations.
When I tuck myself into bed at night,
Earlier than most days,
I watch as Ma peeks her head into my room,
Assuming, to wish me goodnight.
So when she tiptoes in,
Talking in hushed whispers,
Flicking on the nightlight,
I see she’s carrying my dinner plate in her hand.
She sits down by my head,
Perches my slumped body,
Strokes my hair, and says to me,
“How could I not save a bit of Rajma Chawal for my beloved?”
My eyes lit up, reflected in hers,
As she submerges a dainty spoon into the bowl.
Bringing it to my mouth, smiling from ear-to-ear,
At the taste of home I’ll always carry with me, faraway, and so very near.