Anita Rau Badami's Tamarind Mem

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Detail from "Qol/Voice, 1987," by Calgary artist John Brocke (1953-2009). The painting depicts a street in Crescent Heights. 

Detail from "Qol/Voice, 1987," by Calgary artist John Brocke (1953-2009). The painting depicts a street in Crescent Heights. 

When Kamini told her mother she was moving from India to Calgary to pursue her studies as an engineer, her mother was incredulous. “Calgary?...Where is this place? Has anybody ever heard of it? What is so special there that you have to go, hanh?” Her mother is right. This is the North Pole, and Kamini is cold and homesick. On their regular Sunday phone calls, there is no point in complaining. Her mother, abrupt and critical, speaks with a tamarind tongue. For comfort, Kamini turns to her memories, family photographs and stories. The phone calls stop. Her mother, free for the first time in a lifetime, is on the move, making a solo pilgrimage around India. As the Calgary snow obscures the narrow windows of Kamini’s basement apartment, she pores over her mother's postcards, feeling the complex tug of home.

  

I felt like a mole tunnelled into its lair of darkness, weary of the never-ending night that had descended on the city. When I left home in the morning the stars were still scattered in the sky, the moon a pale aureole. And at five in the evening when I trudged home laden with coat and sweater and muffler and mitts, barely able to turn my head for the padding around my neck, it was still night. I held Ma’s card against my face and breathed in deeply. Opened my eyes and I could see, against the implacable white of the snow outside my window, dark leaves and the bright colour of fruit ripening in the sun. My mouth filled with the tart juice of a burst orange.

 

Anita Rau Badami, Tamarind Mem (Penguin Books, 1996)