indian village girl in home kitchen
chapati on stove in indian village


North India

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”

- Rudyard Kipling

The warm fragrance wanders into the softly-lit morning street. It wafts from the kitchen, through the open door and the windows of a concrete indigo house, waking a stray dog as it goes past, leading the poor animal to bark suddenly at the sun, hungry for a taste of the delicious-but-forbidden smell. 

A teenage girl on the front steps of her home washes a stack of wet clothes. Her younger sisters have slipped into their school uniforms and now sit next to her, braiding each other’s hair.

Their mother’s familiar call puts an end to their early morning activities as they rush back inside to the pleasurable heat of a wood fire. They surround their mother, sitting cross-legged on the mud ground. The breakfast paranthas have been pan-fried on the heavy, cast-iron tava and the family can now enjoy the hot unleavened oily bread with plain curd, the tasteful Indian yoghurt. Two cups of whole-wheat flour for one cup of water, flavoured with a pinch of salt, miraculously gives flavour to the soft dough of the chapatis that the woman has prepared for her children to take to school. The first one she gives to the holy cow that provides the family with nourishing milk every day. She then fills the little silver lunch boxes that her girls carry to the government school. Her last mission is to add some ghee to the chapati dough, rolled out and folded twice, then cooked on the hot tava with more ghee, to create a breakfast favourite, the source of the bewitching fragrance that gains over the neighbourhood streets: the golden brown parantha. Hers are plain, but some prefer them with more filling, stuffed with potatoes - aloo ka parantha in Hindi.

But Ishwar, the old father-in-law, sitting in the white plastic chair at the centre of the courtyard, swears by the simplicity of the family recipe. After eating their breakfast, the younger girls vanish away to the world of learning, leaving the elder to more mundane tasks. Shelling green beans, the attentive nurturing mother keeps food in mind, already focused on the next meal.

A divine power comes over her: she is the creator of aroma.

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