Gold runs through my fingers as I sprinkle it into the simmering mixture of tempered spices, onions, tomatoes and chillies.
Turmeric is a spice. But that beautiful yellow gold running through my fingers? That’s an emotion.
This is the emotional bond of cooking for the expatriate community. It is a piece of our country that travels back with us.
At times, it is home-grown turmeric harvested, dried and powdered as part of a surprise that your mother-in-law brings with her when she visits.
Or it could be that sambar powder that only your mother can make with the precision of a scientist.
A versatile vegetable masala that lends flavour to just about anything you choose to make is a reminder of one of my sisters carefully noting the recipe from her neighbour. It has been a fixture now in my kitchen for a few years thanks to her picking the spices, roasting and powdering the spice mix and sending a little ziplock filled with heaven and love every year.
The turmeric that has just slipped through my hands reminds me of the mammoth efforts of my eldest sister to coordinate and arrange for an annual supply of clean, unadulterated, healthy spices for the rest of us.
All ground to a deafening halt early this year.
COVID-19 has taken a lot from us. But for those of us who use our travels back home to bring homemade spices, condiments, pickles and the like, it is coming to the point where these stocks that we store so carefully and use with great care so that they last until the next trip are all running out.
Definitely there is a cost element involved to our pattern of bringing all these spices from back home. But it is a very insignificant element in the face of everything else that travels back with us.
A piece of our country
A bundle of our family’s love
A whiff of home
A memory shared with a sibling
A fragrance that takes you straight back to your mother’s arms
That’s what we bring back with us.
My thoughts go back to that turmeric I’ve just sprinkled over the simmering gravy in the making. It is the last bit of the turmeric I had picked up from my eldest sister.
I look at my fingers dyed golden from the pure and beautiful turmeric. Very soon, the last of the red chilli powder, the coriander-cumin powder, the vegetable spice mix will pass through my fingers.
It feels like more than running out of a few spices. It’s like losing a precious piece of my family that I hold on to as a constant reminder of the love, support and togetherness that we share across the borders that separate us.
It feels like nothing I cook will ever taste of home again.
It feels like I’ve been away from home too long.
I shake off these feelings of melancholy with a strong reminder to myself.
When I finally run out of the spices, I need to remember to look inside and I will find my family in my heart and soul. That is the spice of life I will live on until the world is back to normal and we all meet again in better circumstances.