Story 23: Mistress of Spices
She was a delicate English rose, he was the hardy Indian moneyplant. Well, as they say, opposites attract so little wonder that Hitesh swooned the first time Helen walked past him in the corridors of Sussex Business school. She smelt of lavender, and fresh rain, while he carried the faint smell of curry. Thanks to the ever-present theplas in his bag.
“What’s that?” Helen asked, when she spied him munching in the cafetaria.
She had only ever eaten naan breads in an Indian restaurant. With chicken tikka masala. HItesh was only too happy to share the ‘tayplas’ purchased weekly from Ramnik Indian store. To be eaten strictly with Ba’s chhundo. Sweet pickle, made from mango, he explained. One bite and the taste of heaven exploded in Helen’s mouth.
This was why Christopher Columbus set sail to India, why Vasco de Gama travelled around the Cape of Good Hope. Why ships full of the Dutch and the British followed. Bloody spices! 500 years later the English were still eating bland and lifeless food. They hadn’t progressed beyond black pepper and paprika. Maybe a dash of cinnamon.
There are many ways to patao a girl – chocolates, flowers, maybe an Amazon gift card. Hitesh’s wily Gujarati brain went a step further. He presented a stainless steel masala box. The standard one used by every Indian housewife, with rai, jeera, dhaniya powder, mirchi and haldi. This was just right for an introduction to Indian cooking.
“Oh, Hitesh,” said Helen. “You are so sweet and practical.”
Indeed, Hitesh was unlike any of the boys Helen had dated. He was shy, decent and helpful. When Helen’s mother heard about him she quickly pronounced that this, was marriage material. Young Englishmen were louts, with no character, no commitment. In this global world, what did the colour of one’s skin really matter? Go for it, my girl!
It was one thing to like someone (that could not be helped!) but quite another to go beyond that. Left to himself, Hitesh would never have made any kind of move. Fair Helen well knew that and took matters into her own hands. The two became inseparable, without actually becoming a couple. And finally, she invited Hitesh for a weekend at her parent’s country mansion.
An sprawling estate with gardens, fountains and bannisters. Hitesh was impressed, but not overawed. Every student in the Sussex Business School Family Business program was the offspring of a rich businessman. Godhoomal and Sons was a 115 year old business with a commanding market share in its category.
Every month one of his uncles or cousins boarded a plane to Kazhakastan to buy the best possible raw materials. Striking a tough bargain with the sellers. It was a near-monopoly and a lucrative one at that. Hitesh could talk for hours about the many dimensions of the ferula extract, its processing, and quality control. But he was a guest, so out of politeness he asked Helen’s father…
“Sir, what is the business your family is in?”
“Perfume, my boy! Rose, lavender, jasmine… anything with fragrance!”
No wonder Helen always smelt so divine. With a sinking feeling, Hitesh knew there was no future for the two of them. They were Romeo and Juliet, Heer-Ranjha, Shirin Farhad. Doomed.
Unless Helen was brave enough and strong enough to pass the Ultimate Test.
She had been warned about the sights and smells of India. But never prepared Helen for what hit her when she entered the factory of Godhoomal & Sons. She swooned, and fainted.
“Oh my love,” she said, fluttering open her eyelids. “We do belong to two different worlds. But we will make it work!”
They call it the ‘devil’s dung’ and it’s one of those spices Vasco da Gama never carried back home. Hing, to you and me, jiska swaad gorey kabhi samajh nahin payenge.
Let’s hope love conquers all!
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