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Family Recipe by Ann Thomas Seitz: Indian Review:Literature,Poetry &
Sharp knives sliced through hearts of tender vegetable flesh as Kavita plunged deeper into her monthly
duty to learn traditional family recipes.  She felt angered by the four phone calls from her mother just that
day brokering a conversation in Hindi and halting English with her Auntie. “Well, she just wants to check in
to make sure the Bisi bele bhath is being made correctly.” That was the first call. “She wants to know if
you soaked the Black Gram and Channa overnight?” That was the second and on the last call, “Well, I’m
bringing her over because she wants to make sure.” Kavita muttered under her breath almost crushed by
the impossible family demands put on her to become a purest cook and of being part of a family from two
worlds.  She clenched her knife and pled to heaven, ‘No, I’m not using Marathi Moggu I couldn’t find any!’
Her serrated bitterness ripped and tore at tomatoes, chopped through potatoes and disemboweled
delicate life from all the kohlrabi until it was in one-inch cubes. Auntie let herself in and without a glance
trailed through Kavita’s messy kitchen past the built-in wine rack, past the Teflon non-stick easy clean pan
collection, past the refrigerator with a water and ice dispenser in the door walking around the flash-sparkle
of the Portuguese imported marble covering the kitchen island.  Kavita only saw the empty footprints of a
woman once strong and clear now faded and struggling for one last gasp at the old world.  Kavita’s
mother hovered nearby opening every disorganized drawer looking for an oven mitt all the time making a
face as if grime and filth were crawling. “Did you save the Cardamom husks?” “Yes Auntie, I put them in
the tea box,” said Kavita. “Did you use cinnamon bark instead of that other stuff?” and with barely a
breath, “You didn’t roast the spices in oil did you, you should dry roast for bele bhath. You didn’t use
packaged coconut did you?” “Yes, no, okay and no.” “Here,” Kavita’s mother motioned for Auntie, “She
found some fresh Javitri,” Auntie held out an open palm, “You didn’t use ground Nutmeg yet did you?”
“Mom, ground Mace is sold on shelves, I don’t have time to find or grind fresh spices.  I work.  Five days a
week.  Sometimes more.” Auntie didn’t know anything but how to live by the seasons.  Life was spice; how
to find it, prepare it, use it at the right time, heal with it.  Laptops, cell phones, teleconferencing with
England or Japan weren’t involved. Auntie looked in the pot and as if singing quietly and said, “A people
comes hurrily to this place and should not forget, should not forget.”  Kavita stood back and watched her
Aunt ruminate over the stove pot waving her hands as if casting a spell sure that ancient knowledge
flashed in her eyes. The tinny high-pitched “Wreeeee~Booleeeeep~Wriiiiii~Oughhhhh” ring tone of R2D2’s
voice and flashing lights disturbed the bubbling sound on the stove.  Kavita’s G4 i-phone vibrate-walked
across the countertop toward her hand.  She answered a text message: <ME/BNG NICE, SHOUT/HAVE
She pressed ‘SEND.’
The cause of death was usually labeled “kitchen fire.” Auntie gazed into the pot, stirred, and with each
circle of the wooden spoon traveled a bit further back in her memory.  Back to when she and her sister
Sorab played happily outside their home, back to when her older sister received her first Sari and they
helped each other dress and learn how to fold it. The rampant occurrence of bridal deaths fires were
uniform with how they found Sorab, dead in the kitchen, clad in a kerosene soaked Sari, trapped in flames
and left alone to burn to ashes. The guilty party still unknown but it was the groom’s mother or someone
from the groom’s family, maybe the groom did the act himself.  His reward: another bride, another dowry,
and another woman to blame for his failures.   Auntie looked away from the pot to Kavita dialing the phone
and pressing buttons with thumbs flicking but thought only of her sister Sorab given to an arranged
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marriage and how she found cruelty instead of comradeship.  Her only sister died because of tradition,
this cooking or not cooking it right, this not having enough to offer.  Auntie circled the wooden spoon and
gazed into the bubbling Daal mixture wafting the steam to her nose to make sure it smelled right.
As the gas flame from Kavita’s 48-inch gas dual-fuel Thermador latest style cooking range lapped the
sides of the pot her mother tried to grab her phone. “Will you get off that machine?” “Huh–I got a text from
work!” “Your Aunt just added something and you missed it.” “Here, just write it down,” Kavita offered a
notepad and pencil. “No, writing down ruins it selfish girl.” “I’m working Mom and I kinda don’t care, okay?”
“What would Auntie Sorab say?” “Why do you always throw that at me?” “Throw? Throw is it?” Kavita
thundered, “Stop, you can’t do…hey, that’s a new phone.”  Her mother began to dial Bangalore. “I can and
will,” she turned her back to Kavita continuing to dial, “You’ve never even been there and with all your
money.” Auntie’s quiet dark eyes turned to the mother.  She mumbled in broken English, “No make her,
and is okay.” As Kavita and her mother looked Auntie continued as if there was no argument within miles
of her, “It is Ritu season” “It’s what?” “I show you Radish Moogi Parantha.” Kavita’s mother kept barking
orders, “Stop crying Kavita,” then cooed, “Yes Auntie, tell us about it.”
“It’s marriage season.”  When Auntie uttered this Kavita’s mother cast a long glance at her daughter. It
lasts until late May, it is when we must eat cleansing foods.” Kavita, still weeping quietly, brushed past her
mother to gaze into the pot with the same wonder her Auntie did. The food had a
coriander-cuminish-cinnamon fragrance and a red and brown glow but was glossy with yellow turmeric. 
Small round black mustard seeds complimented the white cauliflower side dish.  The Christmas colors of
green melon and red chili danced in the pan.  The purple eggplant was complimented by yellow spice.
Kavita’s tongue caressed a spoonful her Aunt had lifted to her mouth.  It hit a precise combination of hot,
savory, garlic, ginger, ancient memory and tang.  In her gestures Kavita duplicated the movements of
those dark silent women who all came before her, of children dressed and working like adults.  In her mind
she saw graceful and colorful cloth floating across the scorched ground of India as women walked in their
Saris.  She saw long dark hair, bare feet, then she and her Auntie looked at each other as if they saw
each other’s thoughts.   Kavita suddenly excused herself, disappeared into a side room to return moments
later wearing a Salwar, but as in all things else she did she wore it exactly right. The old Aunt held Kavita’s
hand, palm up, and said, “The rivers of your left hand will live a long time Kavita, your palm tells me so,
never argue with rivers.”  Kavita just gave in to this mystery.  “Never expect our lives to finish at the same
time but remember those before you who pulled a thousand roots from the ground, and carried thousands
of branches of firewood.  As my hands mourn yours can clap at this world my dear.”  Kavita’s phone rang
but she just let it go to message.  She realized her mother’s pressure and Auntie’s constant insistence to
learn cooking hadn’t been done just to vex her.  They hoped someday another woman in the family line
would come back to the way of understanding food they’d had pushed and pushed.  Somehow passing
through the ocean inside the belly of mother after mother had left Kavita to scream out and want to forget
there was goodness in traditional ways. Auntie handed the wooden spoon to Kavita and she took it.
Author: Ann Thomas Seitz Genre: Short Story Country: India