by Michelle Nathan

Before I travelled to Sri Lanka
for the very first time
My cousin told me that
the most important word I could learn in Tamil,
is Kaarnum.

And I didn’t understand why
Until I got there

Where each meal is so distinct,
but also seem to slowly meld together
As one ends, the preparation for the next begins

Where they
pile the plates so high
the food could almost touch the sky

Where the edible leaning tower before me
threatens to spill over the sides and floor me,
I somehow find the strength to say
Thank you,
Jaya Auntie,
Kamala Marmee,
but please, it’s enough!

She does not even hesitate,
but simply continues to spoon more food onto my plate
Unwavering in her mission
It’s a condition that all aunties suffer from;
They feel the need
The need to feed

I even cover up my dish with one hand
Form a line of defence with my palm and fingertips
She will never get through this elaborate barrier
I think to myself

But little did I know,
that she is not afraid to pour hot sambar
Spicy, soupy
liquid gold
directly onto my skin
So at least that way,
some of it can still soak in

These daily feasts are feats of near perfection
that I have never even tried to replicate

Because feeding a family isn’t easy,
by any means
Hours over an open fire stove,
no microwave or Uber eats to lessen the load

And we’re living in a patriarchy
So the women will wait
hand and foot
on the men
while they barely lift a finger,
unless specifically asked,
. . . and sometimes not even then

But I think that my Kamala Marmee
is happy, at least

She is more
than most people I know

Her laugh is a song that I would play on repeat, if I could
There’s no real melody,
but as she cackles and whoops,
the sound fills my heart with so much joy
it could literally burst

she is
to a degree
that I find hard to conceive

When I give her a gift
That my sister has sent to her
from across the seas
She hides it in a cupboard
for a rainy day
Or more likely,
to give away to someone else
who’s more in need

She is everything I wish I could be
A teacher,
a mother,
the most compassionate of caregivers

I stayed with her
In Vavuniya
For only four days
In a near constant
sleepy, satiated haze

Where we were trapped in language barriers,
but not when it came to food
Because cooking my favourite dishes was how she said
‘I love you’
Every day
Without fail
And that needed no further translation

Because even though it is dripping in syrup
the payasum is never too sweet
Make no mistake
It will give you cavities
And maybe a sugar-induced stomachache
But that’s only for the weak
Because in my heart
It’s never too sweet to eat

And the curries are never too spicy
Even when there are hot tears trailing streaks down my cheeks
And my nose threatens to run off and away with the dish and the spoon
They are never too spicy to try

And even when my Aunty
Asks me
My response to her
Is a resounding –

Because even when I’m so full that
I resemble the moon
Hanging low and heavy in that rusty red sky
Or a full, ripe mango that
could roll down the street
And pop like a balloon
I will never, ever, have had enough
Of you

Michelle Nathan | @mimtown 
Michelle is a rookie writer of Mauritian/Sri-Lankan Tamil descent, who is just trying to make sense of the world through words. She writes and performs spoken word poetry, and her work is almost always an inadvertent love letter to the incredible, brave and bold women in her life who inspire her every day.

Thanks to @mollyalessandra_ for the image accompanying this post

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