Secret Servings8 October 2019
On the drive from Melbourne Airport to my student accommodation, I spot an Indian curry store. For the first time in 48 hours, my eyes come across something familiar. I want to stop, but the fare on my cab is rising, so I swallow my excitement and move on.
Five days later I am at QV, shopping for groceries for the first time without my mother. I see a shop serving “Indian Curry” and am overwhelmed. Finally, a taste of home. I walk over and have a look at the array of curries, but they mostly all look the same orange.
My mother is in the kitchen, a tiny moving blur amongst maroon teak cabinets. Sunlight is pouring in and I am bent over my homework, scribbling away to glory, when I cough. My mother is frying her spices, and I vigilantly sniff out the pungent smell of cumin and turmeric hitting the bright red and green chillies. Smoke rises. In the haze from the kitchen, I can see Ma skilfully chopping potatoes and eggplants, manoeuvring the sharp knife with years of practice fuelled by family hunger. Chop, chop, boom, splash. She is washing utensils, frying potatoes, roasting eggplants, all at once. The mundane teak of the kitchen is dotted with orange, yellow, purple and maroon, coloured with love. She walks over with a glass of water. She had heard me cough.
Ma is an olfactory charm, the perfect junction of sweat and love, cumin and coriander and turmeric. Glistening white rice lies on the table in a stainless steel bowl. Next to it sits a bowl of yesterday’s meat curry, oozing oil and stirring memories in my taste-buds. I simply cannot wait to dig in, but today’s fish is better, I know. I am Bengali, there is nothing in the world that parallels my mother’s fish curry.
Growl. I hear my stomach rumble and look at her expectantly. She smiles and pours some curry into a small plate. “Here, taste a little bit. Don’t tell Papa, it’s our secret”. That’s it, that’s what she feels like: secret servings of curries and smiles, and a little exhaustion.
Agh, all the curries here look exactly the same colour, and I am so annoyed. I excitedly shop for groceries, waiting to have the same red, yellow and green in my kitchen. To cough when I fry everything, fuelled by hunger and blessed by Ma’s love.
I have seen so much colour here, but very little of my own, and between my skin and the memories of my mother’s kitchen, the palette in my head is homesick.