Thursday 25 June 2015


From far away, the call went up. 'To the hill! It's Aunty Shai!' Mind you, I am on the verge of becoming plain Shaista because my niece Eva is getting suspicious that 'Aunty Shai' is not necessarily my grown-up name…. she does not know that I am not necessarily Grown Up.

It's summer. The bees are out. Honeysuckle balms the air. And in Wandlebury, five siblings reunite in dappled English light…

Wednesday 17 June 2015


It begins with my mother. Food always begins
with my mother. It tires me when people ask
if I can cook a curry.
As if all we eat is curry.
As if a country the size of a continent
could ever, only, would ever, only,
feed itself on curry.

I began to hate that word long years
ago. When it boxed my mother in.
When there was never room to explain
she is Parsi. Zoroastrian. A portraitist
describing food on a plate
the way she carves paint onto canvas.
Her palette is sometimes pastel, and
sometimes oil; a mix of ochre (mustard or rai);
coriander for greens: peas, lime, okra, French beans;
purple aubergines.

Eggs for any day, any possible way:
her grandmother (and my grandmother)
both believed in butter.
Generations of Julia Child doppelgangers.
Girlhood was for sali, salty potato matchsticks;
sev mamra, rice puff popping,
chocolate ice cream for Sunday mornings.

Now, on special occasions, or just for love,
hours of building biryani, sifting, sieving daal,
and preparing every roti.
Pomfret if she can find it, lightly fried with salt and pepper.
And on the side, cachumber.
Cachuber? (Here the rare parental disagreement.)
Every birthday garlanded with a carefully burned
white palace of semolina, milk, sugar, petals,
raisins. She calls it rava or ravo, depending.

A small tribe, the Parsis, in a vast civilisation;
in a country swimming in flavour, they make their meals
as moreish as my father's people do. The bedouin
desert tribes still thrum beneath the meat
that hangs off girded steel.
You have to garment your fingers
to really taste your food, and share a single thali
without disturbing the portions.

When I was a boy, he begins, but the memory is too much
for a cold November day in England.
I remember, he tries again, his fingers curling,
savouring mutton as it melts, paya, haleem,
falooda with chiku, thick buffalo cream.
It is May when he speaks, gulmohar season.
In the heat, scarlet tiger claws watch the drip of mango
run down his chin - King Alphonso, the best -
and bursting her stays, sitaphul - Custard Queen of apples.

Quinoa is recommended to the girl with the wolf
disease: mashed avocado, maca, kale, apple cider vinegar.
Cacao helps to sweeten spinach, chia, goji,
but even as I juice and blend, my heart belongs
somewhere else, with someone else's palate.

In her conservatory, she tends bougainvillea and hibiscus,
coaxing Indus valley plants to befriend their cooler companions.
And up from her kitchen, magic weaves her spell.
Food never tastes as well
as when my mother makes it.

(c) Shaista Tayabali
a dverse poetry prompt

Saturday 13 June 2015


I have just finished reading Marie Kondo's bestselling The Life Changing Magic of Tidying. It is a book with a buzz. The in thing (in the world of tidying). The sort of book you strongly believe arrived just when you needed it. Just as you were knocking objects off table edges, tiny flower pots for example... My eyes have been deviously difficult this year and so I fall into this category of believing the Kon Mari method has arrived in the nick of time.
The essence of the book is this: pick up an object. Ask the question - 'does this spark joy?' If the answer is yes, keep it. If the answer is no, or non-commital, sayonara it. And then tear your hair out when you discover just how complicated your non-committal responses can be. Add into this equation being a writer, loving books, and sometimes not necessarily loving a book, but needing it. At some future date. When your future self will remember you once had that book and you GAVE IT AWAY.
And then there's all the ghastly paperwork that must be dealt with… do you have a paperwork situation? 

I think I have learnt a certain measure of detachment from Marie Kondo, which is another essential teaching of her book. It is a humiliation to be the possessor of more things than you need when garbage dumps and slum heaps are growing. And upon their festering mounds, children, making a scavenger's living. Kondo never says this explicitly, but it is part of the secret of joy. Things can bring us temporary joy, perhaps even save our lives - and therefore things must also be tended to, thanked, seen and given due credit. When objects, even books, pile up (tsundoku) we commit the crime of ignoring them, even destroying them. Japanese homes are built differently to English homes: space and functionality are entwined in a much more visceral way. Storage is of utmost importance. And yet, Marie Kondo's book has become an international bestseller. I hope I am able to implement these tidying skills into my life - but as for my books? That's a tough racquet. Also toys and little this-and-thats for my foursome RafiBellaEvaEllie… I like being the aunty who has things, so many things to play with. But if I didn't have things, so many things, there would still be the roses…