The Spice Box
short fiction | objects
It was a round stainless steel container, much like the several others that lay stacked in Amma’s kitchen cabinets while awaiting their service of housing leftovers, but dull grey in color rather than a resplendent metallic. Its lid still bore the engraving of her initials, R.H., and its body bore scratches from the numerous times it was scoured with steel wool — now Scotch-Brite in my household — which, while contributing to the slight decrepitude of this spice box, also lent a certain sheen to it, for these markings would catch the light of the overhead bulb that was always1 on.
The seven small bowls that it held — six of them arranged against the rim of the container with the seventh in the center, all snugly packed — contained the mosaic of colors and textures that I would watch, enthralled as only a child can be, crackle and pop in hot oil, and then color and flavor dals, curries and kormas. I had been convinced at one point that this steel container held the magical powders and seeds that enabled Amma to effortlessly churn out delicious dinners, breakfasts and packed lunches, day after day.
Now, two decades later, it still bestows a certain power upon me, the bearer. As I sprinkle mustard seeds and red chilies into a puddle of hot oil for sambhar, I yearn to sit on the cool marble countertop of my childhood home and watch Amma complete this recipe: I can almost smell the fragrance that would soon envelope the kitchen, feel the whiff of steam as lids would be opened and closed, hear the clatter of dishes that would be washed in the sink, while I chat on about my day at school, knowing that everything would be okay, because dinner would soon be served.
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