"What do they cook in your part of the world,
anyway? Just potatoes and roti," my aunt would remark. The prize-winning entry in the third Outlook-Picador Non-Fiction Contest.
illustrations by Jayachandran
One monsoon in the 1960s, my father’s oldest brother died. His portrait hung in a room at the centre of our house, where all the pictures were. It showed just his face, looking up at a camera that had surprised him by appearing from the back. His bumpy forehead was creased with a baffled frown that seemed to ask why his picture needed to be taken. A week later, coming down our red stairs after an afternoon amble on the rain-slicked terrace, he stumbled and fell. The many-windowed room that the stairs landed upon was deserted; the bedrooms that led off it were empty. Twelve people lived in that house, but nobody heard him crumpling at the foot of the stairs. As he fell, one of his hands jammed in the wrought iron banisters.
Four days later, I was born, a month before I was due. There was no celebration, relatives didn’t crowd to catch a glimpse of the new baby. They were shaking their heads over the young widow and her fatherless children. Even Johnson’s Baby Powder couldn’t quell the deathsmell from tuberose, incense and boiled-up deathtime food. My father sat with his...