Monday, August 16, 2010
The catalyst that ignited my passion for India was a piece of mirror cloth. I got it when I was seven years old, a gift from my somewhat eccentric Aunt Edna when she returned from India. For years the cloth the color of the first blush of dawn and sparkling with bits of silver glass was my favorite costume accessory draped over my head or wrapped around my waist. Aunt Edna went off on a solo yearlong trip around the world in the mid Sixties, from Europe and Iceland to Africa, India and Asia. My memories are vague on details of the trip; what I vividly remember are wild mahjong games with my Aunt and the magical carpets, animal skins, elephant tusks, drums, and carved masks that filled her suburban Chicago home. Most of my childhood, I was mesmerized by the long narrow piece of pale pink cotton inset with small polished round mirrors held in place by embroidered white threads like spider webs woven around tiny silver ponds. I liked to imagine the village where it was embroidered and the person who made it. When I stared into the bits of mirror I was transported to India—the one I imagined from the pages of the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. The book was a battered thrift shop find and some of the beautiful color plates were torn, but the pictures of Mowgli, the man-cub and his animal cohorts whetted my appetite for adventure in faraway places. I spent a lot of time reading books from the library about India and other places I hoped to one day visit—Aunt Edna had set an example I intended to follow. An interest in Indian food was piqued long after the mirror cloth was just a happy memory. My culinary passage to India began in San Francisco, the city I was born in.