Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Uncharted territory

We're back from Sicily: goodness, an island of such utter beauty; it leaves you weak-kneed, and as surprised as a child. England, on the other hand, was as stolid as a black umbrella on a soggy day. The plane landed through dark grey clouds, on a wet tarmac, into a damp chill - the usual suspects really, but home still. Never a bad thing.

I'm going to put together a post on our lazy-hazy-crazy days in the Sicilian sun, but before that I thought I'd share something else.

Some months ago, I terrified myself by writing my first short story. And then I wrote another. One of those stories was shortlisted for the Words And Women Competition, 2014. It's a story called Mrs. Sen. I'll be reading from it at the launch of the Words And Women Anthology next week.

You can read about it, and about the wonderfully gifted authors I'll be reading with, here:

If you have nothing better to do, and are anywhere near the event, do pop in and watch me walk into uncharted territory. In a different kind of weak-kneed.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Lived like that

Four days ago, they were the darkest pink. Tight knobs curled into themselves, not quite ready. We waited. And then they opened; they opened up. No holding back, no meekness, no concession to modesty. They were like five burlesque dancers in a quiet, curtained apartment. Everything else in our room faded.

They seem to know better than us that all you get is one show. The first show, the last show. One life and all that. They lived like that - even when they bleached away from that heated pink to the paleness of good paper. Even when they sagged like skin, and frayed like an old silk saree. God, they went with such grace! You dared not feel sorry.

I'm glad we saw them off before we left. Our bags are packed - we leave for our holiday soon. We're going to Sicily and a little cottage in the woods where all I want to do is Nothing. They tell me there's nothing like Sicily in the springtime.

I'm carrying one of my favourite books. And a sense of a place where volcanoes smoke, the Mediterranean sucks up the sky, and the sun sets like a crazy peony.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Backwards and forwards

Can one walk backwards and forwards at the same time? Or do the two actions negate each other and make distance disappear, so that you stay in the same place like a tree: torso moving with the wind, toes digging into earth? I have a feeling, a good way of staying centred is to pretend you're riding a unicycle. One-pedal-forward-one-pedal-backward; it's what you need to do to achieve fine balance. To  find your centre-of-gravity. Your rootedness.

Rootedness so often has its root in movement.

My friend Sia, is moving from England, back to India, with her husband and little son. They're going back the way they came; walking in reverse. But towards family and old friends. Towards familiar roads and a well-known rhythm. Towards home. Backwards and forwards.

When Sia asked me to write a guest post for her blog, I had to google 'guest posts'. I've always avoided them; I balk at the responsibility of writing for someone else's space, about someone else's life. But I couldn't say no to this. This is for a very special family; for three people who're headed to a country I too call home. So here I am groping in the dark. Stay with me.

Some of you, many of you, might know Sia well. She's the loving hand behind Monsoon Spice, a blog that is filled with everything its name suggests. A downpour of spices and smells. The clatter of an Indian kitchen. Wisps of nostalgia. And of curry leaves and rain-soaked courtyards. Sia had carried these with her from India when she came to England many years ago, and now, as she, her husband and her lovely boy prepare to pack life into boxes and move back, I wonder if it's her box of red and yellow spices that give her the courage to make this move. If it's the nostalgia which tugs her back; urges her to give her son the taste of a life she grew up with. As she said to me "Time will tell if we've made the right decision".

Yes. All any of us can hope for is to do is what feels right for our lives, right now. 

So, to three very courageous people - for it takes courage to give up your job, sell off your home, say goodbyes and start from scratch - here's to being brave enough to change your course. Of going backwards and forwards at the same time, till you find your balance. Of riding life like a unicycle. So that, no matter where you are, you are rooted to the life that matters to you the most.

Something from back home

As  Sia carefully packs up her kitchen, wraps her spice jars in bubble-wrap, I thought I'd cook her something that, to me, smells like home. This is a dish most Bengalis have grown up with - I certainly have. It's called Panch Mishali-r Torkari: a mix of five (panch) vegetables cooked with a sprinkle of five whole spices (panch phoron). And like all things I cook, this is my version, so puritans, stay calm. It's a very simple dish, usually cooked at the end of the week, when you need to use up the vegetable left in the kitchen. It also makes my home smell of Calcutta, and of my Ma.

Sia comes from the south of India, whereas I come from the East. Our spices are quite different, and so are the smells and taste. So, here's a little piece of my home to take back to hers. Safe journey, Sia. A whole new, wonderful life awaits.

For the recipe, and photographs, of my Panch Mishali, hop on over to my Guest Post on Sia's gorgeous blog. There's no better place for vegetarian and vegan Indian food.