I tore a piece of chapati and dipped it into my bowl of spinach curry. The curry was unassuming, nothing to look at. Not like those thick, rich punjabi gravies that lustily titillate one’s senses and cause desires to ooze before the first bite.
This spinach curry was humble. Small shreds of spinach meekly floated in a water-based gravy. I ran the ladle through it, stirring thoroughly to encourage some robustness to emerge. In vain. Thinly, it responded by offering up burnt garlic pieces and a tomato skin or two that swam in the ripples I had created. Its meager sexiness was mustered in a red oil sheen. It promised no great pleasure, and I lowered my expectations to bare minimum edibleness.
Carelessly, I put the bite of chapati soaked in curry into my mouth. And time stopped. In fact, it went backwards, as I was carried to childhood summer vacations in Parbhani, into my maternal grandfather’s kitchen with its earthen floors and walls, sunlight that filtered in from a tiny, ceiling-high grilled window, steel plates cleaned with water and ash, and meals that were eaten together by aunties, uncles, cousins, neighbours, neighbours’ kids, and anyone else, all squeezed around in a circle. Jowar rotis, or for the more urbane, easier-to-chew wheat chapatis, sat in a foot-high pile that steadily came down as they were served around. Without enough katoris (small bowls) to go around, some of us held our plates at an angle as the curry was dished, trying to keep the gravy from spreading towards the bread.
As I slowly chewed on my bite, I saw my grandfather, in his white dhoti and loose cotton shirt, looking into my 10-year old face with his big, clear eyes. I remembered how he liked me. When my aunt wouldn’t let me play with her expensive threads, he gave me the coarse thread he assiduously collected from grocery packets that always came wrapped in it. He talked to me, telling me stories about his farms and asking me about school. He made me laugh.
The rustic flavour of the spinach curry spread throughout my mouth and into my memories. I heard the chatter of too many relatives crowded into the small space that was kitchen and dining room simultaneously. Voices, real people’s voices, floated in the air, as there was no television set to mute them. Sitting on the cool, dry ground, I crossed and uncrossed my legs, trying to fit in the little space between my mother and another grownup, wanting to be a part of it all.
This spinach curry was magical. It invoked an episode that was the most mundane and yet, in its very banality, held the richest of memories. Like the spinach curry, which carried the fullest of joys within its very simplicity.