Seems to have been a year of examining so much of what we are not!
Brexit raised all sorts of unexpected questions, that I absolutely thought I knew the answers too. I was British, and we were European. And we welcomed Jews, Indians, Caribbean, and Commonwealth people. Hey, I came from one of those immigrant families. I knew all my life what my part of being British meant. Suddenly that all changed, and I was literally being told, I am not European, and the trolls would tell me that ideal was a Leftist plan and that I had lost the vote and no further right to confuse being British with being a European.
Scotland of course, voted not to go for Independence, but now are re-considering. Which in time will mean, that Great Britain, or the United Kingdom, will be entirely un-nited, and at best I will be English. I don’t even know what the English Flag looks like, and to be honest, have no clue who St. George is and who I am supposed to now pay my allegiance to.
The same enquiry process has been hard at work on a personal level. I was safe in a loving relationship with a modern sensitive man who supported the rights of the Gay and Transgender community. He was you know the progressive man, I search for all my life. I felt safe to explore those dusty feminist theories now, with the safety net of now living in a culture immersion pot of academia. I loved my husband, and I still wore pretty elegant silk Kurtas and tight jeans and make-up, you know this was okay. This was not about being angry or a fem-bot in biker boots.
I spent months being this kinda tamed Tiger and learning how to be not quite a domestic goddess, but certainly a softer, more feminine version of myself than any former time or place had governed. Hell, I even baked cookies, and hot chocolate muffins!
I spent a lot of this period of my life, gazing at the giant Neem tree, and giving my forever thanks to the Giant of a Man that had found this property, with it’s wall wandering peacocks, the dream safe and many windowed light penthouse for his sweetie-kutie, and I padded around in my shorts, loving those plants, giant creepers, and blooming roses that he built by hand a bamboo and net five hundred square foot garden room for. Everything was thriving. All I could see and register was this Abundance.
We laughed for more than two and half years that we might one day buy an oven. It was terribly commitment-like and we whispered long forgotten recipes that we would make for each other on cold winter nights if we ever got one. Our finances ebbed and flowed, and our commitment fear was real. Many months we simply would choose something entirely not home and hearth related to blow our cash on. We could afford it. We just kept quietly, peacefully averting the we really are a domesticated couple moment.
We did. It came. We romanced ourselves these past few months on a feast of oven hot great wonders. Sugar dusted ginger snaps, and oozing spicy pizzas, diced coconut fragrant Kerala tender oven roasted beef and stuffed peppers, bakes aubergines and endless chocolate cakes, lemon cake and anything possible cake that may rise, burn, or somewhere in the middle. And then there were the Roast Potatoes.
I have been away from the UK for nearly a decade, and there is very little I can bring to this All India celebration of Lights, religions, ancient traditions, modernity. I cannot go home to Kerala and try to invent the wheel. There is a huge two thousand member family, alive and kicking and there is a heirachy, this feisty Tiger knows well enough to not bring her Western woe or ways to try to change it. The bravest thing I ever did, was ask if I may have my tea in a larger cup!
I do not need to flaunt my Western ideals, and I mostly wear extremely conservative Indian clothing. I am pretty much most of the time, not only covered up, but looking respectable, charming and elegant. The old baggy jeans and tee shirts are strictly for out of India dusty bus rides now, and family and friends have no idea that part of my life exists. Seldom but not never do I put Corrine Ray Bailey on the sound system and blast and dance to Put your Records on, and mostly we listen to exquisite and ancient Karnatic violin and tabla. And yes, I even watch Tamil and Malayalam movies and laugh at the punch lines! There are a few moments of brazen Western nakedness, and on our entirely discrete, covered, private, enclosed terrace, I may once a month run to hang some washing on the line in knickers!
Sometimes, I actually forget I am Western. I wear Yellow silks now more frequently if that is possible than a confirmed Europhile wears Grey and Black. I slowly, slowly, learned the rules. When to wear a sari, when to not. When to speak out, and mostly, when to not. I learned to buy enough books, and pens to hide in the bedroom when the men came for dinner. I mostly learned not to expect please, or thank you, and that to argue, or make a noise would lead to days of partner induced penance. I learned it all.
The thing about my husband, who says he is no good, is actually that he is very good. At everything. He was a National Kabbadi player. He is fast. He knows attack and defense. He is a gifted artist, and has been feted by the Newspaper for thirty years. Crowds flock to see his cutting edge Performance Art, and he is held in loving esteem from one end of India to the other. That is no joke.
In spite of his fame, he possesses enormous, almost biblical humility. A quiet, shy, persona that takes nothing from people, expects nothing from people, and gives everything. Truly, what is not to love about that.
He has become the better than me at everything kind of guy. The kitchen has always been his domain, and I was the sous-chef. I cut the vegetables, and peeled the garlic cloves, and I watched and took moment by moment instructions how to use certain spices, and how to run an Indian Kitchen. I had to learn how to wash rice, and which of the eighteen different lentils needed soaking and which did not. I learned how to wash clothes in buckets and had to learn the real art of rinsing. Likewise, I was trained, scrupulously watched over by a Mother in Law how to wash a plate and never, ever cause shame by leaving an infinitesimal trace of soap on any surface. Mostly, anything Western, was obviously, unskilled, useless and not spicy or tasty or relevant in this culture. There is some truth to that, and actually I have been okay with that.
I have very few weapons. And I have tried very hard not to use them. Really, hand on heart, my only really powerful weapon of love was a super creamy spinach and nutmeg pasta served steaming hot that could diffuse any drama, and the smile on that man’s face would fill my heart with that thing, that thing, you know, only love.
Recently, we went to visit family in the South. I achieved an epic qualification and was fully granted permission from the Mother to clean the kitchen after one of those days when breakfast, lunch and dinner have been an endless, seamless, variety of perfection. She had stood nose to nose for weeks and was satisfied I had grasped the knowledge to wash and rinse plates, and was elevated to this prideful position of having free reign in HER kitchen.
I got it. I enjoyed it. I kept mostly quiet about, but maybe, I ruined it by telling him about it.
Soon back in our own home, I found myself feeling that Amma was here. Right by my side. Checking everything. I kind of joked that he had become his Ma but we both thought nothing much of a moment of kitchen sarcasm. He told me I did not know how to wash spinach, and he meant it. He refused to eat my food, and he unknowingly broke my heart.
I was happy to put the Kitchen Closed sign up and relax into this end of the year unwinding, unraveling and make myself a less frazzled person and let the power of forgiveness do its’ thing, and allow grace and burning Hannukah candles to burn off our mis-understandings and ignorance.
We made it, 365 days to the end of the year. I stand here filled with both regret, confusion and thanks. It has been a year of non-stop wrestling with what I think, feel and hope and then comparing it to the actual feedback life gives me.The gap between those two places, my experience, and the Indian reality has at times been so vast, I imagine I have the wisdom to accept this shortfall, and in truth, there is no wisdom and instead huge ache. The ache of alignment has been 2016 every single waking and dreaming day and night. So it might seem like there is anger and bitter disappointment, and there is , and yet, still I must, and need to say, offer and share my sombre, sober part reticent Thanks.
I have not forgotten the Roast Potatoes by the way. When I said I came without weapons, bar a bowl of pasta, I was not completely telling the truth. When I said, I had no wily Western-ness left, I was not completely honest. All of my homesickness, longing, and imagining of the life I left behind had the potential to be transcended, and shared when we actually did buy our tiny toaster oven. All of what I have been, my whole life, was a Jewish Mama in waiting, a balabushka, that spent her life in sales, marketing, and thriving on the good company of others and well to be honest, knowing from age three how to work that room. I earned my living doing that! And I prided myself on running a kitchen home that fed the hungry, and impressed the cynical. I could woe and wow with not only wafer thin baked deserts and tarts, delicate soups and unusual wines. I could always, always, make beyond decent Roast Potatoes.
A testament to my spuds has been Indian guests refusing to eat Western foods and moments later finding an entire oven tray finished. I have softened angry, upset, tired and discontent fools with my pre-dinner treat. That wild and much loved Tarragon plant that grows on our garden, is my I remember who I am damn it Moment! Wrapped up in that moment are all those Mui Mui shoes, those promotions, those meetings, those delightful cocktail dresses wrapped in chorine free tissue paper. Those Potatoes are everything I have been. That woman who walked Tiger Leaping Gorge in China alone, and ate bones in a refugee camp on the Thai Burma border. Those potatoes are that kid with braces that was shocked to be in a ghastly purple nylon bridesmaid dress, that twerp whose flower bouquet fell apart, those tears shed and all the life of not knowing with certainty anything at all.
Those paper garlic petals that fill my potato tray and my magic touch of taking brown soft spuds to crispy on the outside and soft on the inside is my magic mixture of olive oil, and butter. It is my ability to still make alchemy, and share it with others is my humble thank you, I love you.
We talked about having a quiet New Years’ Eve, and making dinner together and him making Kerala beef fry, and me making Roast Potatoes. We laughed that we could get some rum and watch a movie and fall asleep in each others’ arms, drunk, full and fat.
I was a bit shocked when lunch was served just now. It was semi roast potatoes and beef. There was no coconut. I checked to see if this was lunch and dinner was something we would do later, but he explained this is it. This is tonight’s’ dinner.
This independence thing is so vast, so huge. It is a lifetime of defiance. Not wanting to ever be dependent on another. This fight of his is real. To conquer time and to be a master of his own heart. He must, like a Kabbadi player, only win.
I feel myself a ghost. I have no place here. There is nothing I can bring to this party. He has finally even, usurped my role as the roast potato queen.
He knows how to do everything now.