Unedited excerpt of my memoir – ©2019 Sylvaine Francine
Morning comes early enough. We are tired from our late night at the Lions Club and still on jetlag. Feeling hot before we even set foot on the floor, I set the fan to a higher speed.
“I’m starved. You want chai or something?”
“Nope, I’m hot and I want a cold beer,” Yvette answers. We laugh. “Did you hear what Mokala said yesterday? On dry days, when no alcohol is sold or served, men get their alcohol served in tea pots and fine china. That’s how they get away with it in public. Funny, eh? Why bother with that law! Wonder how they stop the beer from foaming.” Yvette stretches, sits on the bed.
“Maybe it’s not beer. Whiskey? What do they drink here?”
“Dunno. I go under a shower first to wake me up and I’ll meet you in the dining room.”
At the end of the hallway, Biri who cooks the meals stands on the kitchen threshold, her back against the door frame. She spends endless hours in the kitchen. She holds a cup full of tea in one hand, the saucer in the other. Carefully, she pours some tea into the saucer and drinks from it. Is it because it is too hot? Is it because she is not allowed to drink from the tea cup? I don’t know, I won’t ask.
She sees me coming and pours me some tea in a delicate china cup. She smiles, shakes her head and hands it to me. I smile back at her, shake my head side to side to acknowledge her gesture. She returns to the gas burner set on the ground, squats in front of it. The steaming hot kitchen receives renewed air from a small open window. Not efficient. I guess the gas flames would not allow a ceiling fan in this room. Already back at work, Biri fires the gas burner and pours oil in a pan.
Within one minute, the smell of sizzling oil reaches me. I hear the clear popping noise of the mustard seeds. She grasps and opens the box of powdered spices, pods and seeds, revealing the compartments where a display of colors catches my eyes. Green fennel seeds are lodged between the bright orange turmeric and the soft brown coriander. Plump cardamom pods sit beside the sturdy cloves, next in this circle are ajwin and black tukmaria. Shapes, forms and sizes differ. Pungent and sweet fragrances arise. With a tiny spoon or with her fingers, she chooses spices as needed. A quick move of her wrist, she tosses them in mustard oil, one at the time. A distinctive masala smell emerges from the hissing pan and saturates the kitchen. Too much of a strong aroma for my barely awakened senses. She rinses her fingers under water and wipes them on her cotton sari. She opens a small round can and the potent odor of the white hing is lost among the others. Mokala appears next to me. Such a good person and devoted wife. We’d became fast friends during these few days.
“You like to cook Indian food?” she asks.
“I don’t know how to. It seems complicated. But I would like to learn.”
“We’ll teach you some! No problems.”
Photo: SADDAPIND from Morguefile.com