Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Salt to Taste

There is something missing. I cannot quite put my finger on it; I can actually taste the bitterness of turmeric and it mixes awkwardly with the sweetness of peas. The bland under-taste of eggplants weighs down my dish. I consider adding a teaspoon of coconut water but desist; this pot does not need more sweet. I chop up some more onions and sauté them with ground ginger and green peppers. But even this condiment, though it has a delicious bouquet, fails to bring coherence to the pot. I cannot believe the eggplant-and-peas sabji, a staple to my plate for over 45 years, a dish I can whip together without much thought at all, this vegetable pot which is almost second nature to me is causing such anguish.

Actually, I do know what the problem is: salt. My patient reader will remember that I've have to forgo all salt in what I cook. I have been following this diet for over a year now and usually, I do not miss the salt. Natural salt content of foods is enough. In fact, I have been grateful for the noticeable reduction in salt, as salt often tends to overwhelm the food and drowns a lot of subtle flavors. I have been learning to notice and appreciate those. When my family watches me eat my salt-less food, I know that they believe that I am braving my way through the portion. However, that has not been the case. So I am amazed at my missing the salt today.

If one were to assume that the intake and enjoyment of food are connected to the consumer's internal emotional landscape, then my missing salt today explains itself. The stretched out twilights, the endless, still afternoons, the mornings that often creep by, and the unmoving nights might very well reflect gaping holes in my suddenly empty house. My house gets filled during Summer and empties out just when Fall is beginning. When Eid comes around, my visiting family is getting their material together; Rakshabandhan brings packed bags and wound up rooms; by the time Janmashtmi and Ganesh Chaturthi roll around, my house is empty. Suddenly, my meager shelves of my fridge and larder seem well-stocked; the cats wander in and out of the house as though lost; the 4pm tea time becomes fluid and I often have 2-3 cups of tea a day, not to mark part of day or prahar, but because all my work gets done faster than I expect.

Of course, this is all part of my annual ritual and all is well and predictable. Like water that always seeks its own level, so does my house. I know that beginning tomorrow, I will have no time to sit and sip the bottomless mug of tea; in fact, I will wonder how I had the time to have visitors in the Summer! Actually, this balance is already righting itself, finding itself. My quarter is fast concluding, with its hectic grading and a thousand little and large i's to be dotted and t's crossed. And we all know power of a hectic routine to establish equilibriums of all sorts.

When I called my child today, she sounded harried and when asked, she claimed that she is very busy settling down. I had to smile; her phrase describes exactly what my house seems to be doing all year long: busy settling down, and settle down my house will. I have packed the week's portions of the sabji in manageable boxes. I know that when I gobble it down at lunch tomorrow, I will not miss the salt. But tonight, I want to remember the taste of salt, the taste of sabjis my tongue does not forget. I want to savor the bitterness of turmeric, the gravid blandness of the eggplant, the unreasonable sweetness of peas; my taste buds can add salt to taste from memory.

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