Food for Thought, Memories for Living

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Issue 298
September/October 2016
Regenerative Cities

Ethical Living

Food for Thought, Memories for Living
by

issue cover 298

Cover: Illustration by Luc Schuiten www.vegetalcity.net

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Antara Mukherji recalls her grandmother’s kitchen – and the lessons it taught her.

Illustration by Antara Mukherji

Illustration by Antara Mukherji

Sitting under the wild badam tree, with sunshine pouring onto my lap, I am attempting to relive a bit of my past. In particular, I am mesmerised as I recall spending hours with my grandmother in her kitchen.

The importance of the kitchen and its ability to provide for everyone’s physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing was awoken in me over the last few years as I tended my own child, as I cooked and as I gardened. Now I am aware how important and meaningful were all the tasks that my grandmother undertook. There was serenity in her way, reverence in her rituals, and an intimacy she shared with living and non-living things alike, around her in the kitchen.

I distinctly remember how there was no notion of waste at home, particularly in my grandma’s kitchen. Nothing, absolutely nothing went into a bin. In fact there was no waste bin. From seeds to weeds, everything was given its due.

Grandmother seemed to have an inherent knowledge and skill to make use of every last bit of resources. Water was reused many times until it was finally poured onto flower beds. Food leftovers were fed to pets. Things were reused and recycled without a second thought.

I could sense a unique synchronisation Grandmother had with her knowledge, skills and the labour she put into any task, whether it was making pickles or a cup of tea, or preparing a meal for 10 people. Cooking was a slow and ongoing process, and dovetailing came naturally to her.

There were no measuring utensils around, but my grandmother intuitively knew the right amount of spices for a feast or for a dish for a child with a cold, or how much rice to cook; there was no excess, but there was always enough for an extra person who might stop by.

The milkman and his cow, the gardener, the day help, the neighbours: all were important parts of the kitchen chronicles. There seem to be a strong interconnection and integrity to all the activity that surrounded the kitchen, impacting so many lives in different ways.

A lot of our fruits, vegetables and flowers came from our own garden. Pumpkins, gourds, guavas, mangoes, starfruit, drumsticks, neem leaves and a host of other produce came seasonally, each bringing with it its own flavour. The relation we hold with the soil was embedded in me early in life. The seasons were entwined with our lives and were welcomed and celebrated. Time was in surplus, as I recall. Festivities brought people together, and the feeling of communion and rejoicing still makes my heart swell.

As I write this piece I feel a tinge of sadness mixed with nostalgia. The past may not be regained, but surely my grandmother’s essence stays with me and I can do my bit to carry forward this feeling of abundance and contentment in my endeavours.

Antara Mukherji is a writer and illustrator living in Bangalore.

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