A few years ago, with my friend Ilaria, we used to exchange books – a practice that you can only do with whom you really trust a lot, and which I no longer use today. –
Usually every two weeks. They cost so much and we only had pocket money available, so lend us the books was the only way to be able to read more.
In one of these exchanges, I gave her “The Mists of Avalon” to read, and she lent me Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s “Mistress of Spices” a novel with an exotic and mysterious air.
Magic was the common denominator.
But while the novel of Zimmer Bradley had a classical mythology, this is the tradition of Indian mythology.
The story of Tilo, the protagonist, is not obvious. From a heavy childhood and a somewhat proud character since childhood, she arrives on an island hidden from the eyes of the world and there she learns the will of spices, to which she will make a vow of eternal fidelity. But her rebellious spirit also follows her across the ocean, to that shop where without realizing she will attach herself to her customers, and use magic for personal purposes, so the spices end up leading to destruction. And Tilo, like those before her, will not be able to dodge the day of judgment forever, one day or another will have to collide with spices.
“Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.”
It is a narrative that must be read calmly, which requires its timing and this not because it is long or heavy, but only because every time you open the pages of this story you are led to a completely different place where it is worthwhile, get lost for a while.
Indian traditions, myths, legends and superstitions mix with the stories of the different customers who pass by the old shop and with the contrasting emotions of Tilo herself, more and more asphyxiated by the life she has chosen. The two weeks in which I had this book in my hands, I virtually visited India and discovered spices that I didn’t know existed.
But above all, I became very fond of Tilo’s vagaries, her indecision, her misadventures.
This story is a tale of fragrance, of aromas, of arcane islands, of forbidden love. It is a very different novel from the usual ones, with a peculiar, enchanting story, a story that unfolds in the kitchen, in the shop, in recipes and spices.
It was Spring – Spring is especially felt in India, the traditional Holi festival, known as the “Festival of Colours”, is held. Hundreds of people overflow into the streets and throw coloured powders at each other until they cover everything with bright colours made from flower petals.
“She lifts a bowl of kheer and her thoughts, flittering like dusty sparrows in a brown back alley, turn a sudden kingfisher blue.”
I think I could seriously end up badly if I were really there, for all that pollen, but it must be a truly wonderful sight. –
I sat on the balcony adjacent to the kitchen, mainly because every now and then I asked my mom what one of the spices was and what it could be used for in the daily kitchen, and she patiently prepared me an exotic-like drink *, she taught me what she knew; even if I had to come to Expo years and years later to really find all the spices mentioned.
“Chili, spice of red Thursday, which is the day of reckoning. Day which invites us to pick up the sack of our existence and shake it inside out. Day of suicide, day of murder.”
Looking out the window, I no longer saw the garden of my building, but the remote island where Tilo was learning the art of spices, or the California where he meets the male protagonist, I could smell the smells of the shop, and even though I have read since then other books set in India or with Indian characters, “Mistress of Spices”
is the only one that gave me the feeling that I was really there.
* Spiced pomegranate drink
– 2 Pomegranate juice
– 120 g of apple cider
– 2 Cinnamon sticks
– 1 star Anise Star
– 2 slices Fresh ginger
We squeeze and filter the pomegranate juice, put it in a bottle with the apple cider and add the cinnamon, star anise and fresh ginger and then put everything back in the fridge. Let it rest for at least 2 hours, so that the spices flavor the drink and serve cold.