‘Have you been crying?’ My Mother stares into the phone whilst contining to chop onions. I give her the hay fever excuse and then start going on about Chem Trails to deflect further questioning. They are polluting our air, it distresses me, making us sick. I sigh, I am so sick and tired of life’s bullshit! My Mother ignores me and goes back to the onions, her eyes periodically darting up suspiciously to the screen.
I dispise FaceTime. Like all mothers, my Mother, can detect the slightest change in my demeanour or tone and today she is some kind of all-knowing Indian oracle. I protest that I am tired and enquire after my Father, slightly jealous that he will be having a multiple dish feast without me. She chops onion after onion, making a masala base. We do this all the time. I call and just watch her do things; sometimes her hair, mostly her housework.
‘What are you making?’
I have asked the most ridiculous question, causing my Mother’s eyebrow to shoot higher then my own sarcastic one. ‘You know what I mean’ I continue, ‘how many are you making?’ Adjusting herself and becoming animated on the subject of her own cooking she tells me that my Father’s colleagues are coming for dinner, and her ex-pat group are meeting the following day. She will make too much and is not sure what to do with the rest. I suggest a vegetarian dish or stuffed paratha, the best and tastiest way to use up the leftovers, especially if I am the one eating said leftovers.
There is a loud roar as the onions hit hot oil, my Mother leans back from the heat out of view but I know her face is scrunched up, lips pursed, eyes squinted as she furiously tosses the onions around a metal cauldron.
‘Did you hear from that boy?’
The onions die down and start to sweat; I fidget. Mother wipes her hands on a Union Jack coloured kitchen towel and steps closer to her iPad. I clench my teeth and shake my head. ‘There is nothing wrong with you, you know. You are very beautiful and lovely, you did not do anything wrong’. I sit staring, glazed over, listening to the softening onions and trying not to get upset. Ignoring me again, my Mother starts to pull spices from a cupboard and I wish I was there to help her, I need an activity to take my mind off things.
‘Go make some masala daag. Chop it all up and simmer’. Cooking is Mothers’ answer to everything. ‘You need to practice your masala base. You are too in a hurry – you always want final dish before base is done- base first’. I disagree. My life is a Masala base, I am the perfect base; a base from which several other delicious dishes are created. I am now hungry for my mothers authentic cooking.
My Mother is now tipping teeny spoonfuls of colourful powders into the sweet, aromatic, silver slivers. She hawkeyes the cauldron, throws in chunks of ginger, red and green chillis, and cardamom pods. My Mother has everything under control. ‘Base first’ she repeats, ‘You ruin the onions and nothing tastes right, you get masala wrong, all dishes ruined; no curries, no vegetables, no dal. And! never cook without love in your heart. No love? food no one can enjoy’.
The tomatoes go in last and the whole thing is turned down low for a few hours. I watch my Mother clean down her station. Later she will dice chicken, lamb and vegetables for curries. Soak, boil and fry lentils, knead and flatten dough. All in all it will take over six hours. She gives her six hours with heartfelt love and in return she has received a lifetime of appreciation. My Mother has never and will never rush her masala base, so I decide to put my life on simmer.