Taken for granted

Living in South Asia, cooking was one of the biggest concerns for my mother. She’d wake up at 4 am to prepare breakfast from scratch. She’d feed us, and once my brother and I left for school and our father to work, she’d clean up and start making lunch. When we got back home, not only would we have a plate of wholesome rice, vegetables, and the occasional meaty or fishy treat, but we’d also have perfectly-proportioned tea and a snack to get us through our homework. While we gorged on the spring rolls, cutlets, or some other goodness, she’d set up the kitchen for dinner. From kneading the dough to rolling it out and cooking it, my mother would spend at least two to three hours sweating over each meal, painstakingly poring over the rolling pin, making sure each flatbread was even on all sides, not too thick or they wouldn’t cook in the middle, but not too thin either for they’d then become too crispy and brittle-like. All the while, she’d ignore the sweltering heat emitting from the stove as her skin and life burned.

She wouldn’t go to bed until after 11 pm.

In a day, she’d spend at least 6 to 8 hours prepping, cooking, and cleaning up. To say she was tied to the stove is an understatement.

She wasn’t the only one. A lot of Indian families had a similar lifestyle. A lot of Indian mothers never had time for a ladies’ night out or even to go to the bathroom at times—because their toddler would wail if they leave the room.

I grew up observing my mother. And although I wouldn’t have had the same life as her, I would’ve still spent a lot of my life cooking and scrubbing had I stuck around the same societal mentality.

When I moved to Australia, I couldn’t believe how easy the food was. I’m not referring to the abundant restaurants. Cooking itself is now effortless. I rarely eat out—it’s way too expensive. But I do cook a lot. It’s too easy. Canned pulses, frozen fruit and vegetables, and oven-friendly meals have transformed cooking from a chore to a ritual as simple as pulling on a favourite t-shirt in the morning. I don’t cook three meals a day either—I make a pot of beans and use it for three days. People think it gets boring, but it doesn’t. I always have some fruit and vegetable lying around for a quick snack or meal. My meat-eating brother gets chicken wings and shoves them in the oven. It takes less than an hour to prepare a weeks’ worth of meals. It’s fast food without the harmful ingredients and effects you’d associate with fast food. Because everyday meals are so quick and easy, I get a lot of time to work on my hobbies and endeavours—to experiment with new recipes, to read and write, to prepare an elaborate meal once a while, or just to wander the streets, aimless. It’s such a nice feeling not to be a slave to the kitchen.

It’s all too late for my mother, though. Sadly, she didn’t have the convenience that I now have. 

That’s the problem of modern life—we take so many things for granted that we fail to realise that even the seemingly instantaneous chopped tomatoes weren’t always that instant.


Image: Melissa Walker Horn on Unsplash

Silence

Silence, when it came over, was noisy. Ringing in my ears, clacking unceremoniously, making itself known as if I’d somehow, god forbid, miss its entrance. As if it’s so easy to remain impervious to the raging, galloping rush of nothingness as it tumbled its way into my bare room. It pressed itself on me, pushing my face from both sides, trying to squish out whatever remained of my pale tear-dried cheeks. Compressing them as though they were a petty jpeg image of something larger, more significant than they seem.

Silence, when it came over, was unkind. Grabbing my ears by the edge, it pulled, tugging hard to make sure I strained. Fresh tears drained. It waited for the drops to drip, just long enough for them to solidify before forcing my eyes to renew the flow. Invading my comfort, it pulled the wind out of my lungs, extracting all joys, twisting, as it went, words that rumbled deep within my belly, croaked in angst, and crouched in agony.

Silence, when it came over, was swift. In one flawless motion, she swerved out of the road, and my world blackened. Cars don’t make good presents.

Of making art

“Do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.”

Kurt Vonnegut

I stumbled on this quote when I was least expecting to. But it made me stop and lean back in my cold, stone chair. It made me look out into the void, thinking, mind wandering, wondering about the undeniable necessity of art.

Remember when art was hobby? Singing, dancing, writing, painting, crafting—all of those were categorised as activities to do during your leisure. Stuff you do to de-stress, to clear the mind after a long day of work. That’s the mentality I grew up around. My family and teachers looked at art and creativity as an add-on to normal life—not life itself.

Kurt challenges that ideology. Creative thinking shouldn’t be allocated or limited to a specific time. Instead of looking at art as an activity for an appropriate time and place, we should think of it as part of our everyday lives.

Art is everywhere. From a puddle in the street and the graffiti on the toilet walls to an activist’s speech and signs on a protest. Everyone has it within them. And we should consciously choose to bring it forth and declare it as part of our personality—our identity.

Except, we don’t.

Think about it: what would people say if you skip home from school one evening? When and where I grew up, people would label me as crazy, undisciplined, and out of control. They’d blame my parents. A child dancing on the street is unruly.

In reality, though, it’s self-expression. Children will be children. And they shouldn’t be penalised for it. Our society has become so adept in suppressing the artistic and creative outlets of our younger generation that we’ve ended up with a group of people who’re too busy to have time for art in their lives. And thus, art is now luxury.

Lost for words

Stunted, I stand—
like a child facing its father
drunk, with no pride, scowling;
as that child registering,
look on its mother’s face.

Stunted, I stand—
as a yearning pianist
learning, watching masters
gliding fingers, seamless
so much to be stressful.

Stunted, I stand—
as a teen, hopeless, in love
curious, cluelessly licking,
purposefully his own lips,
to feel remains of hers.

Stunted, I stand—
mute as a muted video,
blinking, in slowed motion,
afraid, lest the picture fades,
the sun in my horizon.

Calling home

“What else?” She asks.
For the second time today.

The first time, 
I’d stood by the window
basking, in the stream
shooting from the horizon.
Full in my face,
filling untinted glasses
with blinding brightness
and warmth.

Like a steam towel on an airplane
soothing, it sat on my eyes,
closed, I’d surrendered
just a little longer…
almost forgetting
mother’s “what else?”
I’d jerked at her shakiness
“Hmm… Nothing else, ma.”

Clicking off,
promising another call
in eight hours.

As a pebble in a stream,
tumbling, tumulting at tasks 
delayed progress
time flew in my world—
froze in hers.
As empty picture frame, 
life hung around.
Hollow in the middle, 
nothingness spread wide,
countable greys now blacks
once page-flipping fingers
frayed, shiver at a touch
shrill soccer mum’s throat
now trill in weak trebles.

“What else?” she asks me.
Stumped, “How’s the weather ma?”
I repeat.