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Sweat, Grease, Smell, Metal, and Water


Omi Anish

I hear the distant train sound standing in this kitchen near the table; the moving sound

snags my heart and it draws the world into my being. I hear this as a pair of doves sit subdued in the backyard's overgrown grass near the citrus tree. The Kitchen. It belonged to a woman whose head was filled with stars. This is where my choices changed, opinions formed. It's my learning station. I witnessed the tree growing to its fullest, fruiting every year. The pale old table near the backyard door with patches of peeled paint revealing the inner cracks reminds me of my mother's body.

I have a kitchen of my own now; I am visiting her's to take a profound look at setting

the jars, stove, self-written recipe books, and bottled fats. As if to reclaim this kitchen as my

own. To speak to those tiles behind the stove, still glaring and neat as decades ago, to

understand what she looked at. It gripped her, and she suddenly started explaining how

refrigeration works. The epiphany took years for me to fully understand and remain curious

about it. I would sit here in my preteens doing my homework at this table while my little

sister, who crawled and chased fallen flakes from her bowl, pulled her saree.

My mother's eyes would occasionally fixate on those gleaming tiles behind the stove

as a child looked at anthills. It was as if she did not exist or like we didn't exist. She seemed

to lose herself in that space. There would be a long and deep silence during those periods of cooking. We could hear the cooker steaming up, whistling loud as a starchy smell filled up the room.

She would splash her face over the sink, draining and clanking. Sweat, water, tears are

all alike. This was the place of solace, of just being herself. One day, I shook her out of that

silence and asked with all my vigour, "What do you look at, Mama, at those tiles? What

happened to you?" My heart beating fast.

She cupped my face with her wet hands and looked straight into my eyes.

"If you ever find yourself seizing up near the sink. You might see them yourself !"

"What are those?" I asked.

"I suppose Kitchen Souls." She replied calmly.


"Near as I can tell all they used to be real women. Some got lost in the kitchen, and others

entered here by chance though they never believed they could spend significant hours of their adult life here. I don't exactly know."

"Where do they emerge from, Mama?" I asked, transfixed.

"They emerge exactly at the same spot once the woman turns into a regular cook for the

household. It takes years for these souls to trust her, of her stable prominence in the kitchen, before turning her into one of their kind."

"What's there to see? Aren't you scared? Why can't I see anything?" I impulsively asked.

"No, there is nothing to be seen. They retreat when they find you can think. They are scared of thinking brains. This burner is the continuous discharge of a piezoelectric crystal; recall the photosynthesis cycle when you look at these greens; this oven uses air to transfer heat. Tear down the measuring plate to zero, measure in grams and pounds, and measure in your cups and bowls. Solve the maths problem that puzzled you and never miss to record the time, the sequence of continued existence, let the timer run.."

She continued.

"This will keep you from going insane. Keep them at bay. Stop reciting Tagore's poem that

you love. That's where they catch you. The kitchen souls very silently grip women. You don't want it, my dear. They are terrified of brains that can process information! And dear, better not mention this to anyone. They won't believe you anyway!"

I sat in silence as she picked my sister and gently wiped her mouth with the corner of

her saree.

The sound of the train snags me again as I touch the tiles with my palm, and I

exchange warmth and I don’t refrain myself from humming, "Thy infinite gifts come to me

only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still, there is

room to fill...."

Omi Anish is a writer based in Ahmedabad. She is a freelance ELT trainer and a reader at The Maine Review. A lover of all things surreal and abstract, Omi is drawn to brevity while writing and intricate patterns while crocheting. 

Omi Anish
Omi Anish
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