I was looking through a series of thumbnail images at the dining table the other day, on the back of a photo-shoot in my kitchen. The shoot had been to capture promotional images for a weekly Spice Mistress radio program that ‘s just launched in my pocket of Australia. The images were perfect. The light was lovely. But what really captured me was the look on my own face
Spice lives in me. I hear them. I know them. Everything is there to be revealed if I listen. And I do listen. To their shape. Their voice. Their colour. I listen to their needs for expression and blend masala accordingly.
Spice welcomes me in. Cinnamon draws forward my warmth. Turmeric, bittersweet longing. Chili excites and calls my heightened arousal. And for each emotion recognized, I am led by spice into an arena where I am seen.
I see them and they see me, and within that equation the magic of mutual understanding is reached.
I am a Spice Mistress because I am one for whom the spices sing.
The journey to this point has been circuitous, miraculous and painful. Raised by a Kashmiri father and an Australian mother between small-town coastal Australia and Dad’s family home in New Delhi meant understanding from the outset that my life would always be lived between worlds.
And for so many years I happily did.
Between Hindu mythology of blue-skinned gods and Australian tales of itinerant sheep shearers and gumnut babies. Between gold-sand Southern Hemisphere beaches and New Delhi peepal trees covered in winter dust.
Spice was the constant. All meals. All homes. All the time. Cumin seed. Salt. Ground coriander. Black cardamom in salan wala chawal and clove in mattar chaaman. Turmeric mixed with sandalwood paste and anointed on my childhood eczema. Raw onion rubbed on the souls of my feet to draw down winter fever. Spice was medicine and family and love. Healing in all forms.Spice was a birthright. I thought nothing of what it was to me. My relationship with spice was presumptive. Its constant presence meant I was ignorant of its incalculable worth.
I had to live without spice in order to understand how much of me was bred into every dried leaf, pod and seed.
Losing love is rarely a choice and certainly my love lost wasn’t.
Mum was in her early forties when she was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease, in incurable and degenerative neurological disorder. I was not yet a teen. My memoir, Spirits in a Spice Jar (Westland Books, May 2018), deals in details with her illness and its effect on her and our larger family. It’s a tale too long to recount. Suffice to say her tragedy meant my security as a person safe in the magic of my in-between world was corrupted.
Living between Mum’s neurologist visits. Between her four-hourly medicine cycles. Between wellness and decline. Being between no longer seemed a mystical thing.
Mum’s degeneration sparked my own. At first in my teens it was my refusal to cook. In my twenties, a refusal to eat. Spice first. Later, significant nourishment of any sort. It wasn’t an eating disorder. It was a spiritual disorder. Spice was healing. But my wound felt too big and too deep to broach. So I closed my heart and my mouth and turned my cheek.
Spice was everything and then spice was nothing. And yet, like all great loves, even in my greatest period of denial spice continued to impact me.
Restoration began in my mid-thirties when depression drove me to my stovetop in a search for answers that hadn’t presented in the joy offered by my two sons, the wonder of my marriage, the seat of my puja mandir, neither in the bottom of my increasingly numbered glasses of wine. I filled my cupboards once more with spice and I cooked and I bled and I wrote.
Spice instantly sang. My soul gradually healed. But the making of the Mistress is in knowing what to do with the message.
Translating the message of spice for those that need to hear it is where I have found my connection. If I’m seen as any sort of success, or as a woman with any renown, it’s only for the story of you that I translate within the circle of spice. We all want to be seen but it can be difficult to know which reflection to seek, which refracted feeling to trust. When I am in the world of spice I see the way we are in conflict, in love, in difficulty, in joy and in grief, and blend all of this to create a taste of you and me in a moment that speaks to the truth of who we are in our beauty and in our ugliness.
Ajwain unpleasant oil, soap and eucalypt.
Fresh ginger sharp, hot, stripping and barely sweet.
Chilli that is bombastic fire and unrelenting heat.
A Mistress blends these feelings and tastes and colours with the sweet and fat of jaggery and ghee, thins their power with the floral lime of amchoor and dalchini’s penetrative warmth and wood. A Mistress makes life digestible.
Nutrition follows on from self-love,self-awareness and kindness. Good diet is a result of a life well lived, not its point of origin. I continue because in a world full of noise it takes quiet persistence to transmit such a genuine and gentle message. I continue because the spices trust me to convey it.
Spices are my inspiration. And sharing them with you is the reward I am granted for my dedication. Follow me so I can give that world to you.
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