In the corner of the bottom shelf of spice jars sat the good old jar of asafoetida. That jar was as old as her wedding. It was a wedding gift. Yes, a jar of asafoetida. Heengu. It came in a huge trunk of spices, in which, as someone had quipped during their wedding that both the bride and the groom along with their future children could be accommodated. And happily. In that trunk came bottles of ghee and oils. Tins full of flour. Rice, obviously, gunny sacks of rice came separately, to feed the bride's new family through the famine, if need be. But the trunk, it contained, lentils of half a dozen kinds, and semolina and vermicelli. And nuts and cashews. If the bride felt like making dessert for her nieces and nephews. And a cart of vegetables came separately. But the trunk, it contained papads and badis for a lifetime. And along with it all, it contained all the condiments a kitchen could imagine. From seeds of coriander, fennel, cumin, mustard, pepper, cardamom and cinnamon, bay leaves and the list seemed to go on. In fact, the trunk contained a neatly written list of all its constituents. That list ended with asafoetida. To the fag end of that long slip of paper, was scribbled in motherly handwriting, asafoetida. The queen of spices.
After getting married on that benign winter day several years ago, Manini had moved around quite a few places with her husband. Several cities into which he got transferred. Changed houses as many times or more. Had two children, one three, one one and a half. A son and a daughter. In each of those kitchens she cooked in, all her spices were used up. In the slow process that life is. Packed in the lunch box her husband took to office, or for the pakoras she sometimes fried on rainy afternoons, in the rice tasting ceremonies of her two children, in some of the parties and functions at her house that she had hosted. She had fed herself and her family of three. Sometimes, she bought new packets of spices and used them just so as the make spices she had brought in her wedding last longer. She wanted to carry a bit of home with her wherever she went, after all.
It's a strange phenomenon how the mention of the word home made so many chords string her heart. First two decades of life that she had lived in her father's house and shared with her brothers, the recent years she spent at her husband's, where she had given birth to his children. Sometimes, and no matter how hard she tried, she felt this duality of having two homes and being homeless at the same time. Ironical. Nevertheless, Manini tended to her young children and her husband, visited her parents on most summer vacations.
Her bottles of condiments though, perishable as they were, ran out over the years, One after the other. This bottle of asafoetida, due to its frugal use probably lasted the longest. Every other day that she cooked lentils, she added a tiny pinch of asafoetida into the oil before spluttering it with curry leaves and red chillies. For a brief fraction of time, just the smell that emanated from a pinch of asafoetida sprinkled on hot oil filled every corner of her kitchen and reminded her of home, wherever that was. Her father's. Her husband's. Or somewhere in between. A chunk of her own piece of heaven. And Manini cringed with Hiraeth.
Hiraeth is a longing for one's home, but it's not mere homesickness.
Hiraeth is a Welsh word which doesn't translate well into English.