By Lakshmi Iyer
Art by Corinne Pease
Lakshmi’s essay, “Samosas Stale and Fresh,” appears in The Dirty Spoon Radio Hour, episode 4, which aired August 3, 2018.
A plate of samosas sit in front of me. Steam coils in wisps above the coffee cup dissipating into nothingness. Nursery rhymes play on a loop on my phone. Sahana hums along as she drinks her milk.
I pick one of the samosas and feel for a moment how limp it is. I tear a piece and pop it into my mouth. An intense longing for the crispy onion and potato-filled samosas of my childhood in Madras overpowers me. I can taste the raw onion chutney, pungent, sharp and exploding with flavors in my mouth. I feel disoriented. I pull myself together and get through the ritual of my evening coffee before the kids get home.
I realize with a start that this month will mark seventeen years of my moving to this country. I remember days when such longing would have caused me to drag Kannan and drive over two hundred miles for fresh samosas and chaat.
Sighing, I promise to myself I will not eat limp samosas no matter how tempting they may seem. At least I will attempt to heat them in the oven instead of the microwave. It occurs to me this mindset right here is probably a legacy of being an immigrant.
The making do, the approximating, the substituting and the attitude of settling for somewhat similar. I lean back as I watch Sahana clap her hands in glee and realize the moringa leaves in the fridge will not be tinged with emotion for her as it does for me. All around me are marks of a person in flux. As I look ahead to our summer in India, I realize the lens through with I view India is not the same with which my daughters will see it. For them, it is an adventure. For me it is pilgrimage.
I am tempted to pull out my wedding albums, to trace my fingers along the younger me as if to figure out if there are physical repercussions of being transplanted in alien soil. Then I realize I pass it each day in the mirror, in my closet full of clothes, in my kitchen pantry. The etchings that come from battling the dichotomy. In the long distance calls that mark my mornings. In the token celebrations over the weekend of every major festival. The colors that seem faded and the sweets that seem tame. The led lights replacing the thick smell of oil lamps. The readymade rangolis that decorate my golu, the silver coconut and mango leaves that stand in for the real deal.
I see it in the six large suitcases under the stairs closet. I see it in gold gilded picture frames that grace the back of my study shelf. I see it in the avocado parathas and the coconut garnish on daikon cubed and curried.
The melding of selves, old and new, the faint longing for a life lived in a different universe and the gratitude for the life I currently live. I reach for the second bite of my now cool and limp samosa and savor it slowly, knowing this is better than no samosa.