I sit on the welcoming red oxide floor of Grandma’s bedroom, the windows overlooking the verdant garden open and a quarrel of garrulous sparrows flying in and out chasing each other silly, a black stone bowl in front of me full of khoi (popped rice).
Grandma loves her khoi.
I am all of seven or eight, fast developing my likes and dislikes and find khoi bland. Like water. It just has no taste, I convince myself yet again.
I fidget around. Scheming how not to eat the khoi.
I stick the khoi into my mouth, as many grains as I can possibly fit in, one half of each grain protruding out almost ominously (or so I think), the other half cleverly hidden inside my mouth.
I am an ogre now. I chuckle. The fiendish kind that preys on naughty children who don’t listen to their parents.
I run to Grandma’s tall mirror to have a close look at my reincarnated avatar.
I am delighted at the devil I see.
No wasting food, Grandma’s voice rings out. As I stand admiring my own self, busy adjusting my khoi-teeth in an attempt to look even more sinister. Come here and finish this off.
I am too obsessed to even listen.
See what I am doing here. Grandma invokes my curiosity.
I turn around to see Grandma rubbing the khoi on her palm. Almost emphatically.
She gently raises her palm to her nose, closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. The smell of the earth. She ruminates. Redolent of the new winter harvest. Caressed with morning dew.
She now walks over to me and holds her cupped palm to my nose.
What do you smell my Princess ? She quizzes.
Keen to impress Grandma, I take a deep breath. And then a second one.
I do get a faint fragrance. Just a whiff though. Or is it just my imagination playing truant ? I do not know for sure.
This is a blessing of Mother Earth. Grandma continues. In a voice that’s uncharacteristically stark. Never disrespect food.
And she leaves the room.
My eyes swell with tears as I mix my khoi with grated coconut and chillies for my khoi er bora this afternoon.
Khoi er bora. The earthiness of fragrant winter khoi. The sublime sweetness of grated coconut. The meanness of chilies. Mashed. Deep fried to a gorgeous golden.
Outside the season’s first showers beckon.