When I returned to the States, I tried to describe my visit to my mother. I told her that now that I had seen the region where my father grew up, I could visualize some of his childhood. I noticed that she seemed to start talking more frequently about my father. She became eager to discuss his favorite dishes. One cold evening in March, as snow covered the ground and daylight faded rapidly, I stood looking out of the window, yearning for light, sun, and color. Rarh, with its red soil exhaling a fiery breath, seemed as distant and unreachable as Mars, as irretrievable as my father’s presence. An overwhelming desire possessed me—a yearning to somehow capture its warmth and bring it into this cold white world. I decided I would make ground posto, seasoned with mustard oil, salt, and chiles, and serve it as a starter with rice.
I turned away from the window and told my mother about my dinner plan. She smiled with pleasurable anticipation. Letting the posto soak in a bowl of warm water before grinding it by hand, I came and sat down beside her. Once again, she started reminiscing about how much my father had loved all the dishes she made with this ingredient—potatoes floating in a thin gravy of ground posto enlivened with whole green chiles; eggplant or jhingey flavored with whole nigella seeds and coated with a beige-brown sauce of ground posto; hot, crisp fritters made with coconut, posto, and rice flour, served with fragrant Darjeeling tea.
As she talked, I picked up one of her hands and looked at the fingers. No longer tender and delicate but roughened with age and work, these were the fingers that had once, long ago, rolled tiny balls of opium. We sat together, our fingers interleaved, while my mother’s voice led me deeper and deeper into the sunny, tropical terrain of our mutual past. On my kitchen counter, the posto slowly softened in its watery bath.