The Turmeric Is Gone
My mother always says, “before god, comes food” which is to say you cannot do anything worthwhile on an empty stomach. Food has always played an important role in my family. Beyond its purpose of providing nutrition, it has been a source of solace, a memory imprinting device, a channel of affection. In the many years I have lived away from home, my mother’s annual visits have always been a short, truncated version of my life at home before I left. She and I squeeze everything into those one or two months and live like we used to. And that always starts with food. There’s something about taste buds never forgetting your mother’s cooking. They get activated and triggered by the food that is touched by those loving hands, and for a while you return to your home.
It goes like this:
Air India flight 101 touches down at 6:07 am.
She enters your Queens apartment and rushes into the 10 x 1 ½ foot kitchen, still wearing her sneakers.
In search for something specific, she rummages through your pre-war, knob-less wooden kitchen cabinets.
Finally, she spots a bottle full of the bright, saffron-colored powder she’s been looking for.
She opens the cap, takes a whiff, and places a pinch-full on her tongue.
When the bitter-tasting, pungent-smelling, known to be antiseptic spice is deemed to be fresh, she takes off her shoes and rests her tired, swollen feet on the Ikea coffee table.
She takes a short nap.
Despite the time difference, her eyes crack open exactly one hour before 1 pm.
One hour is all she needs in the kitchen.
She changes into her cooking gown and begins the preparation.
Fifteen minutes pass.
You stand outside and peep into the kitchen, just like you did when you were little.
You hear a crackling sound.
Within seconds, your eyes start watering from the intense chili, onion, ginger, garlic infusion.
Then, she adds teaspoons full of the ground spice, and that does it!
Like magic, it gives rise to an invisible cloud that envelopes you.
You run towards the living room, but the overpowering cloud follows you till you can’t hide anymore.
When you eat your mother’s food, you can no longer taste nor smell the bitter, pungent spice. It either assimilates or hides, you're not sure which.
You enter the kitchen to clean the dishes.
You see that the cooking vessels are slightly burnt from all the frying, and the stove, the counter, and the refrigerator handle have been dyed a deep yellow.
Twenty days of cooking, dodging the fog, eating, and a kitchen growing more and more saffron, and it is time for Air India flight 101 to take off.
You hug her and wave many goodbyes.
Back in the Queens apartment, you enter the kitchen.
It is noon and you are hungry.
You open the refrigerator and see a plate of food she left for you.
You run your hands along the contours of the stubborn yellow splotches, where her tireless hands had been.
You place your thumb and index finger where hers had left many a dull golden print.
You think about her and you try to retrace how each of these was possibly created.
You look at the culprit bottle and find that it is devoid of any turmeric.
You search for the turmeric, just as you search for her.