Asha Lambert-Patel is a teacher and parent of 3, based on the NSW North Coast. She has Indian and Malaysian ancestry and an Australian upbringing. As an educator, she is interested in hearing and sharing the voices and stories of those who are marginalised with the next generation. She has just completed a Masters of Educational Studies.
At the markets, I meet a man named Govinda. He is pale and skinny, and twine wrapped into friendship bracelets circle his white wrists. His wares spread before him are golden, puffed and crisp – a fantastic aroma of cumin and cardamom, fennel and turmeric is emanating from their shells. His hair lies lank, somewhere between dreadlocks and mess, a slowly unweaving hair wrap edging its way down the dirty blonde lengths.
He gestures to the woman at the back of his tent. “Gopi,” he states. “My wife. My life.” He looks at her with muddied blue eyes. She stands with the beginning of a bump, one hand on her waist, the other impatiently pushing mousey brown hair from her face as she bends to discuss something with the toddler at her feet.
My daughter shuffles impatiently next to me. “What kinds are there?” she asks in low tones. Govinda begins to list the samosas and their fillings, stopping to describe unusual ingredients to me. “This one has paneer in it. Paneer is a type of cheese, a bit like a ricotta but firmer. It’s used a lot in the motherland.” I look at Govinda and wonder to whose mother this land belongs. I would hazard a guess that neither his nor Gopi’s mother has roots in the sub-continent.
For a moment, I am tempted to flee. My Gujarati grandfather’s outrage at going to an English friend’s house only to have them serve him curry and dahl flashes in my head. What would he think if he could see me being lectured on Indian ingredients by a renamed north coast drifter? But my daughter tugs again on my dress and asks for the one with potato, peas and ginger. Govinda is already plating, adding lavish amounts of mango chutney and raita. ‘If he begins to tell me what raita is,’ I tell myself, ‘I’ll leave.’ Thankfully Govinda remains silent.
He hands it over, and rashly I ask for a paneer samosa for myself. Govinda smiles, as if he knew the seductiveness of spice would lure me in eventually. Again, my grandfather bursts into my mind, glowering as I hand over my twelve dollars. “These people,” he scolds me, “These people think that just because they grind some spices they know how to cook Indian food.” I stick my finger in the raita and lick it. Next to me my daughter does the same.
From the back of the tent Gopi emerges. She looks exhausted and has that fed up look that all mothers get regardless of names or cultures. In the background, the toddler begins an almighty tantrum. Govinda turns, distracted. “Edie,” he pleads. “Edie, calm down.” Edie does not calm down. “We’ve got a two-nager,” he smiles apologetically. I laugh and nod, gesturing to my own two-nager son. “Her middle name is Asha,” he says. “It means ‘hope’. We are hopeful that she will emerge from this stage soon.” The adults smile and Gopi crosses her fingers emphatically.
“That’s funny,” I begin to say, about to tell him the coincidence of his daughter sharing my name, but before I can continue he interrupts. “Where are you from?” he asks. I smile. The moment has gone. He has taken on my grandfather’s culture but somehow still retains the mono-cultural upper hand. “Canberra,” I reply. And begin ushering my children away.
As we walk off he calls out to me, “The samosas are all cooked in ghee. I try to keep everything as authentic as possible.” I can’t help but laugh at the irony.
As we sit on the grass, basking in the winter sun, I take a bite of my samosa. It is delicious.
© Asha Lambert-Patel, 2017