The Fish Head - 1
You won't be pleased to hear this, but I am trying hard to forget you. A relationship is not some random data stored on a smartphone. When it starts taking space, you tap and delete, maybe empty the trash too. A relationship is more sticky, clingy, and slimy. And ours came tied by a milk-white cord, smeared in bright maroon blood and the deepest purple of the placenta.
I never told you this, but I have stopped eating chicken and goat meat. Over here, people eat all things alive—cigadas that emerge after 17 years of hibernation, sea urchins, and ostriches. The planet is burning; the news of a never-experienced-before cataclysm has now become commonplace. One step more, and we fall from the precipitous conditions we have manufactured for ourselves to our own end. I can see, feel, and hence I am trying to make reparations, seize the moment, and pivot to something better, more sensitive, more gentle, more humane. However, I am cooking salmon curry today. Somehow, I haven't been lucky in finding the Indian carp fish-our favorite Rohu. The closest I came was a bright-eyed, silver-skinned Porgy, but it had more of a shrimp-like flavor and came nothing close to Rohu. I discarded the whole bag immediately. I figured the salmon would taste more like Rohu's sibling. So, it's salmon today in mustard gravy. After massaging the fillets in turmeric, salt, and red chili, encouraging the fragrant seasonings to permeate the flesh, I will deep fry them in mustard oil—just the way you did. Salmon does not harm the environment. Salmon has protein and omega-three fatty acids. Salmon is not death. Salmon is life; salmon is you; and salmon is me. Salmon is the closest I can feel you now. Especially when the ground mustard seeds release their pungent aroma wafting through the crisp-about-to-get-tender charcoal skin, in that Proustian moment, I see your polka dot maxi; I smell your Lux body soap, I hear your gold bangles clink, I flinch and turn to see if you are there, then I start to cry.
There is something queer about this place. They don't know the art of selling fish. Fresh farm Atlantic Salmon, the color of coral pink, you had a lipstick of that color too. Neatly cut into 12-inch long fillets, shrink-wrapped in artic blue Styrofoam trays, stacked next to each other, is a far cry from our fish market in India. There is almost no way around the fact that buying fish is a sensory process that this place has sacrificed on the altar of convenience. I miss the wet, muddy streets smelling of Katla and rani, surmai, and hilsa. I miss the bonti and the fish seller's thick bamboo block. I miss the haggling and the din of the place on a Sunday morning. I miss you, clutching my wrist and dragging me around the puddles, holding your saree a few inches above the ground to not get it dirty in the slush, muttering to yourself about Baba's lack of responsibility. What I miss sorely is the time spent close to you while the fishmonger, usually a lady with a high-pitched voice, moved her hands skillfully scraping the scales, cutting the head – a big blow with a cleaver around the pectoral fins, and later steaking it into medium-sized chunks. We would greedily ask for a few more heads, which other customers wouldn't have cared for. But we know the story, you and me, the head and the tail story, right? We scripted it when I was barely seven. Your husband and son were more inclined towards the tenderloins, the stomach part oozing with juice, and the warming spice mix of coriander seeds, garlic, and turmeric. I cared for the skull with its many contours and intricate paths to some hidden bits of gooey flesh. I cared for the eyes and the way they bloated after their stay in hot gravy. I watched for the tail, and the innumerable rod-like bones turned crispy after a prolonged dip in hot mustard oil. Unfortunately, here, I have yet to experience the taste of salmon's head or tail.
Contrary to your liking, I use Basmati rice now. This may come across as an aberration to who I am (usna rice was more soul than stomach), but basmati is more of me now. The long, fragrant grains go well with the thick curry. While I continue to feel conflicted between parboiled and Basmati, the decision has more to do with standing on my own, distinct from the spot where I leaned on you, and my growing limbs never outgrew your arms.
Read Fish Head Part 2
Dear Readers, Long narratives can feel overwhelming; however, sometimes one has to straddle multiple lives within one life, and that's the precipice I, as a writer, stood on when I created this piece. I hope my words find a home in your heart. With folded hands, I want to thank you for standing by me, my words.
Click on The Fish Head to read the TOP BLOG AWARD-winning story on Momspresso.