Humaray Liye / For Us is a poem inspired by my great-grandmother’s recipe for Chanay Ki Daal Ka Halwa (yellow split-pea lentils halwa), a dessert prepared for Eid ul Fitr and festive occasions. Contained within each English couplet is a loose reference to the Urdu tradition of Bait Bazi which, in its most simple form, is a verbal game where players are challenged to recite poems beginning with the last letter of the poem delivered by the previous participant.
Presented alongside an original recipe written by my great-grandmother in Urdu, this poem attempts to link the past and the present, while also reflecting the journey of four matrilineal generations shaped by their geographic migration, adaptation of language and nostalgia.
٢ کپ ٢ کپ ٢ کپ
Yellow split-pea lentils, ghee or oil, sugar, 2 cups
Seeking, trousseaus of reclamation
دال کے دانے پر نہ رہے خوب صاف دُھولیں
پھر پتیلی میں ڈال کر اتنا پانی ڈالو کہ دال
Wash the lentils well and put in a pot
Tidal currents, parallel frequencies
میں جذب ہوجائے پھر اس دال کو
Add water so lentils cook, liquid absorbed
Developing the latent image
ہوئی خوشبو آنے لگے بہت زیادہ بھی
Until the colour changes, fragrance releases
See, a glimmer
جب بُھننے پر آئے تو چینی ڈال دیں آنچ
بہت ہی ہلکی کر دیں کہ چینی ایک جان ہوجائے
Add sugar to your taste, reduce flame further
Recollections of churiya & mehndi 2
Stirring until combined to one consistency
You’re, in the fold
بھی ملاسکتے ہیں اور اگر کھویا نہ ہو
تو ویسے بھی بہت اچھا مزے کا بن جاتا ہے
Add heavy cream, even without, will be delicious
Shreds are remnants, endure
ڈال کر اُتار لیں۔
Almonds, raisins, add whatever you like
Even now, are we even
Add rose essence and take off stove
Even now, even now.
- Adab refers to respectful etiquette, good manners.
- Growing up in Pakistan, my favourite Eid tradition would always be picking out a new pair of churiya (bangles) and getting mehndi (henna) on the night before Eid. This night, referred to as Chand Raat, literally translates to “moon night” since Islam uses the lunar calendar, the new moon must be sighted to signal the end of the month of Ramadan. This is a night of festivities where shops are open late, and there is an overall celebratory atmosphere.
Francine Cunningham & Myrtle Calahasian
I miss the smell of cookin' is a short film featuring a poem written by my kokum and myself, about family, longing and loneliness. When my kokum was young and in the residential school system, she was often assigned cleaning duties and, later, when she left and looked for work she found jobs as a janitor. The industrial cleaning products she had to use, without any personal protective equipment, entirely wiped out her sense of smell and most of her sense of taste. This film and accompanying poem reflect on this reality, as well as the isolation her and many seniors experience on a daily basis and especially at meal times.
A closer look at how members of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora navigate their Toronto kitchens
A Dash of Thuul interweaves writing with sound clips and images to tell the story of how white Western foods are adapted in Tamil households in the Greater Toronto Area. By taking a closer look at how Sri Lankan Tamil families navigate their Canadian kitchens, I explore the ways in which members of my community have changed Western cuisine and culinary practices to accommodate the Tamil palate.
I can feel my mom’s eyes burning holes into the back of my head as I fix myself a plate of potato chips to eat with my rice and curry. Not wanting to deal with her usual disparaging remarks about my unusual blend of foods, I decide to take my dinner with me to my room, so that I can relish in the heavenly combination of salty potato chips and kathirikai kulambu, free of her judgement.
But, as always, my mother intervenes before I can make a clean getaway, insisting that I eat next to her, which in turn, results in her giving me shit for eating potato chips with my dinner, of course. She asks if she can make me some appalum instead, but I assure her that potato chips can do the trick, and that it’s actually a very tasty combo. She sneers with contempt. “Well, I don’t look at you weirdly when you put thuul in our pasta, do I?” I retort defensively. She looks at me, baffled, as though the idea of eating pasta without thuul could even be considered a reasonable alternative. She wasn’t wrong.
Thuul is our safe haven; it gives us the kick of spice we so desperately need when preparing certain western foods. She watched me intently as I wolfed down the rest of my food. “If you like the food I make here, you would have loved the food back home,” she says matter-of-factly. This wasn’t new, my mom often raved about how everything tasted better in her homeland, Jaffna—but this time, something prodded me to delve deeper on the subject. What was it that made it so special? I extended this question to aunts and uncles and parents of friends too. What I didn’t expect to find with each family, was a similar story waiting to be told. One that begins on an eccentric island, rich in flavours and culture, and ends in the multicultural heartland of the Greater Toronto Area. A story of nostalgia and colonial resistance, set in the intimacy of our kitchen spaces, where we assemble makeshift Tamil culture.
Not wanting to deal with her usual disparaging remarks about my unusual blend of foods, I decide to take my dinner with me to my room, so that I can relish in the heavenly combination of salty potato chips and kathirikai kulambu, free of her judgement.
Other parents could relate to my mother’s infamous thuul and pasta combo. Some combinations I didn’t expect to hear, however, were thuul in burgers, tumeric in pasta sauce or onions and green chilli getting tossed in chicken wraps. These were just a few of the many assimilation foods that have kept them tethered to their Tamil palate here in Toronto. For some, it is the practice of eating with their hands the foods which are conventionally consumed by spoons or forks. For other devout Hindu families, it is the refusal to let go of their traditional silver dishes used only to eat vegetarian meals. For my uncle, it is his determination to buy jackfruit from Tamil grocery stores at every chance he gets, since it is a fruit that is generally scant in local supermarkets.
What I came to realize was the dishes and practices that continue to emerge out of the hybridity of my parents, aunts, uncles and other families from the Tamil diaspora here in the GTA, are what have allowed us to concurrently embrace our Tamil and Canadian identities in a way that makes the most sense to us. Through our negotiation of gestures, habits, rituals, utensils and ingredients we resist colonial influence and pay homage to our rich and flavourful cuisine back home. So, the next time I watch my mother reach for a jar of thuul when making her signature pasta sauce, I will consider how she has cooked up her own revolution by reimagining traditional uses of ingredients in new ways; ways that have allowed her to explore her hybridity and create an identity of her own.
They fly their pasta through the air on a fork. They make tunnels from a large bite in their sandwich. Small index fingers glide along the porcelain to make patterns in the sauce. They squish blueberries between thumb and index. The oil marinade has become rancid. The smoke from the BBQ lingers on the skin of the fish. The freshness of the fruit is interrupted by excessive sweetness. Cut from the mother plant, basil leaves droop, the stem wilts over the glass of water. A forgotten celery stalk limps with depression. Cutting through fresh watermelon sounds like the cracking of bones.
I take inspiration from the ways my children see and play with their food. Unfinished plates left on the dinner table, half cleaned spills, the cutting board revealing the process of supper preparation and the counter mauled with produce and condiments also add to my creative output. The monotony has inspired recent photographic work by attempting to address food in domesticity, confronting our food waste and our habits of food consumption.
I take inspiration from the ways my children see and play with their food.
Being at home with two children, a routine around eating has become our new outline of the ways in which the day unfolds. Quarantine has forced us to. Preparing meals and snacks, cleaning the kitchen, putting away food, are perpetual tasks. Quarantine domesticity is more demanding than regular domesticity. There are no options - I can’t run away from monotony.
Reshaping half-eaten food, transforming limp, soft, wrinkled produce or installing inedible pieces, through my work, I attempt to highlight food usage and waste. The construction of the image grows from what flows out of the fridge, from what is neglected to be put away. It also builds from the notions of how privileged countries overlook the accessibility and abundance of food we take stock. COVID-19 has unearthed our inefficiencies and the inadequacies of consumerism. Could this time in isolation put into question our dietary trends and habits of consumption? Can we look forward to a viable future that demands sustainability?