Apr 29, 2017

A Journey to Heal

Sarabjeet D. Natesan

The only constant is change. And it really is. Change in work, in ideas, in place, in life; moving on, shifting identities, endless opportunities. However, change can also be at a personal level. To grow, to imbibe and to allow the mind and soul to accept, to agree and to create space and time for thoughts and views. To let go, to understand and to reflect.

Every day as a parent, as a teacher, as a friend, as a colleague, as a devotee, as a mentor we encounter change; what was acceptable earlier cannot be taken for granted. Children grow up, students move on, friends can be passing through their own spectrum of experiences, work becomes mundane, faith can be challenged and mentoring can be exhausting. And we adapt to the changing situation.

When I lost my mother, I turned to my father and told him that I cannot live any more, that I cannot imagine my life without her. In my mind was also the fear of someday losing my father and that made me completely inconsolable. My father, trying to come to terms with his personal loss, still found the composure to soothe me. He told me that just as my mother had lived through the loss of her mother and her mother had lived through a similar loss, so will I. He spoke Nanak’s words from the Guru Granth Sahib, ‘Nadiya Wah Vichhanea, Mela Sanjogi Ram’; life is like rivers flowing, they meet only to part and who meets whom and when they part is all orchestrated by destiny.

These words were like a salve, they quietened my agitated mind. The more I thought about it, the calmer I got and thanked my rivers for carrying me to disparate places in life, for giving me opportunities to think, reflect and change. My reflections also brought me closer to my childhood and to the memories of my life. The one memory that came back to me time and again was my mother’s cooking. Her cooking journey began in Lahore in the pre-partition days and culminated a few months before her spiritual journey began. She was an exceptional cook and her dedication to making a meal for us bordered on the divine. She would insist on vegetables being chopped a certain size, a certain way for different cooks. She was an educator, yet her patience in roasting, basting, cooking given the amount of other work she had to do was inspiring. She never took shortcuts in anything, she would pound full grain spices into masala powder at home.

My father got her a Japanese electrical grinder to make it easier. Yet she insisted on pounding the red chillies by hand. Many a times, I would tie an old dupatta around my face, pretend to be a dacoit and pound chillies for her. It was also my job to make fresh ginger and garlic paste for her every evening. And to set and clear the dining table for dinner. She never once told us that she was tired or busy and that we should just order something. Even the simplest of meals that she would cook; parantha, curd and a slice of mango pickle would taste heavenly. She never once tasted her food while cooking and her sense of proportions and portions was perfect. If we had unexpected visitors, and that happened a lot because of my father, our food would magically expand. She could innovate with food and out of leftovers and nothing much else, create wonderful meals. She credited it all to God’s compassion, ‘Waheguru’s barkat’. We always had plenty to share and it became a part of our life. Her pickles and achars were always sought after and she always had a bottle to give to anyone who asked for it. Later in her life, when her health was failing and could not see very well, she would get into the kitchen only to cook for my father for she could not think of the idea of anyone else cooking for him.

At home, I never really learnt to cook, for it was a constant joy to eat her food. She never asked me to also, she said that you will learn to cook when the time comes. My interest in cooking started with a packet of homemade ‘garam-masala’ my mother sent with me to the US. In a lonely and cold foreign country, with one ‘karadhi’ and one pan and only visual memories and a sense of smell, I learned to cook. The aromas of home travelled with me in a masala bottle and helped me emotionally to settle in. I could not ask her much over the phone for those days phone calls were very expensive and started and ended with ‘How are you, I am fine’. I would wait for her letters, with small tips and recipes to get by. Once when I burnt a big pot of chicken curry and called her in panic, she told me to take a stick of cinnamon, roast it in a pan, grind it and mix it with the burnt gravy. And my food was fine again!

Not everybody understands when I say that cooking is therapeutic, healing and that I do it not because I must, but because I want to. I am told by friends that they only enjoy the process of creating something special; a special meal, a special cook, but I don’t understand that. I like the mundane, the repetition, the passé; it is in that that I find solace, it is that which ties me to my roots. I have been cooking for years. Early in the morning, before others wake up, I cook. Cooking is a spiritual blessing to me and subconsciously I connect with my mother and feel my day has begun well.

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