Programmed to eat the leftovers
The smell of grated coconut fried with button onions and dried chillies for a theeyal, the smell of a fiery fish curry bubbling in a clay pot, or even the smell of steaming idlis, evoke strong emotional memories of place and time.
In my writing, food is a key element to set the mood, especially with regard to emotions. The smell of fear—a pot of cassava boiling, as the smell is similar to the smell emitted by certain species of snakes; expressing anger or hurt—a bird’s eye chilly that you bite into, either unknowingly or deliberately depending on the scene; the smells of nostalgia—unwrapping a pothichoru on a train journey, that was lovingly wrapped in a banana leaf by my grandmother.
Other than the smells, the sounds when preparing a dish can also be used effectively. The clanging of a thavi (ladle) hitting the sides of a bell-metal uruli can show rage or frustration, when the stirring is furious. The rhythmic grinding of chamanthy on an arakalu, or the pounding of rice, are sounds that can show turmoil or calm as required; all, without a word being uttered.
Food from Kerala is part of my cultural identity. Using local food idioms/expressions, the voice in the narrative can have a cultural context and the character, strongly etched. An eg. would be referring to a person who has been used and discarded as ‘karivepella polae’. Karivepella (curry leaves) add flavor and aroma to a dish. But when the dish is served, it is not eaten but thrown away and discarded.
Food expressions/idioms, playing with textures and ingredients, expressing emotions through food are all key elements in my writing.
Savera Zachariah has been published for her travel, food and human interest stories. Now, she is writing flash fiction and creative nonfiction, and loves experimenting with different forms. She is also volunteering with an NGO, teaching refugee children. She lives in India.