Smell

It is my happy place. I know that no matter what happens or how old I get, my questions will always find answers here. Or at the very least I’ll find something to distract me from it  momentarily. It is a veritable cookbook of new smells every morning. My earliest memory of smell is coconut oil. I remember following the smell to the kitchen where Ammachi stood over the stove. Concocting some delicious mixture of what would be our lunch. Whether in my maternal grandmothers house or my paternal grandmothers, the kitchen has always been my happy place. Somewhere I could go to think and most certainly be fed. I would also almost surely be given all the gossip they knew.

Every morning meant a new smell, a new taste. I’ve woken up to the crisp smell of banana fritters. My mind giving my the flavours of it before I had tasted it. Sweet and soft, the kind that would just melt on my tongue. Then there was tapioca. Ammachi would cook it in the most incredible way, that would fill my mouth and appeal to every taste I had. Salty with just the right amount of spice.

Both my grandmothers loved cooking, or rather, they loved feeding.  My paternal grandmother moved out of my house to her own place in Kerala three years ago and I still often have cravings for her pickle or banana jam. The jam flows over my tongue like honey.  And the doughnuts have a different tangy taste of surprise every time, cinnamon, cloves, sugar and once to my delight, chocolate.

I have not inherited this wonderful skill that spreads happiness. My best contribution to the kitchen is sitting on the counter and dangling my legs while listening to my Ammachi tell stories of their youth. In Kerala, over the wood burning stove, I lit the fire and stoke it. I love that ritual. I love watching the flames lick onto the wood, crackling when it hits wood that is too dry and sizzling when it comes in contact with damp wood. I know to tell what kind of wood it is from the smell. Wood is always associated with kitchens for me.

The kitchen conversation is more forthcoming now. No longer are they lessons on values and the associations of food and why I must oil my hair. Now they are about weddings and why it’s important to study and work hard and why I must learn to cook.

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