A hand grabs a pinch of turmeric and sprinkles the aromatic yellow powder into a dish. The young lady leaves the dish to cook with a table of spices laying around. As the room is cleared of any human presence, each spice awakens one by one. There on the table sits Dadi Haldi with her children, Adrak (ginger), Dalchini (cinnamon), and Mirchi (red pepper), wide-eyed and eager to ask questions. Mirchi, the spicy one, makes the courageous move and asks her first question: “Dadi Haldi, how did we all end up here?”
A hand grabs a pinch of turmeric and sprinkles the aromatic yellow powder into a dish. The young lady leaves the dish to cook with a table of spices laying around. As the room is cleared of any human presence, each spice awakens one by one. There on the table sits Dadi Haldi with her children, Adrak (ginger), Dalchini (cinnamon), and Mirchi (red pepper), wide-eyed and eager to ask questions. Mirchi, the spicy one, makes the courageous move and asks her first question:
“Dadi Haldi, how did we all end up here?”
Dadi Haldi, as she occasionally checks on the dish, looks back at Mirchi as the others now stand behind Mirchi, fearful of Dadi’s stern response. Dadi, in nature, is reserved; her true beauty hidden. Still facing the dish, she replies calmly.
“Finally, you ask about our journey to this new world.”
Dadi’s nostalgia for her days as a young bowl of Haldi overcame her composed mannerisms, a sight that the young spices were shocked to see. She took a pause and in a flash, Dadi Haldi travels back to the hustle and bustle of the colorful bazaar located on the Malabar coast, what is now modern Western India. She describes her lively stall filled with many different spices.
“You think we are a huge family of spices,” she says. “Oh, you don’t even know. The sweet family who kept us, they had every spice you could think of. And the son, oh, he always teased me and grabbed a handful of me to color his friends with.”
Dadi, with a smirk on her face, admits to Dalchini that she thought the boy was cute. She didn’t really have any elder of her own, making her very close with Adrak, Dalchini, and Mirchi’s great-grandparents who were her companions during this time.
“Mirchi, you think you have a temper? Your great-Dadi–oh, she was a spice the rest of the Dadis knew not to mess with,” says Haldi Dadi, laughing as she reminisces those days.
She continues to tell the younglings how the bazaar was so comforting as her face suddenly drops from a bright smile to dull sorrow. Adrak, the one that can never see anyone sick, turns to her and asks, “Dadi, what happened? Why are you sad?”
Haldi Dadi takes a deep breath as she begins to unravel wounds that she covered up years ago and promised to never bring up again. “All the spices, in the stall, knew that one day we would be bought. Our responsibility was to go to a home and fill it with our beauty. I sat at the front, right by my Baba, the owner, and I used to see these fair men pass by on large animals with black sticks. They didn’t look like people who bought us daily.” Dadi Haldi was describing the British officers who rode on horses through the bazaar with guns.
“They used to come up to Baba and tell him all sorts of things. I was young and never understood what they meant. I saw your great-grandparents begin to worry. That night, Baba’s wife took me home to use on her son who had gotten hurt.” Dadi told her babies that the officers were telling the family to either start selling their spices to them, or they’d ensure no one else buys from them. “Baba was desperate, and they started selling to the fair men. Your great-grandparents and I were among the first to leave. Some didn’t make it on our voyage to the new land. Adrak unfortunately your great-grandma left us first,” Dadi says with a frown.
Wiping her tears away as she sees her babies start to cry, Haldi Dadi begins to compose herself and return to the facts. For her, the voyage to London never seemed to end, where the only scenery she had for months was dark, moldy wood at the bottom of a ship.
“I had forgotten what sunlight looked like at one point,” Dadi points out. Then came the day they arrived at their new home. “This land was unfamiliar and so strange. The humans looked so different. But then we met our new family. They looked similar to our old family, but they wore different clothes.” Haldi Dadi was describing an Indian servant family that helped manage all the spices that were brought from India. She continues on to talk about how this family was forcefully brought to London to work under a fair man that all the fair men followed. She was describing a British General and how other officers would visit his residence. “We all stayed in the kitchen so often that the family would open up about their problems like how the fair women talked rudely to the women.”
Dadi says with anger on her face, “These fair women would yell at my new friends for adding our cousin, Elaichi (cardamom), into their tea. They don’t even know what true tea is if they don’t add my dearest Elaichi.”
Dadi Haldi described the new customs and listening to her companions’ painful stories made adjusting to their new home difficult: “As all three of you came into this world, in our new home, I felt as though this new unknown land was becoming my own. The dishes we are used in are the same, and we all are fulfilling our responsibilities,” Dadi says with a more encouraging tone. “So babies, our journey was long. We have made it from land of colors to a land of unknowns. And that is okay.”
Adrak, Mirchi, and Dalchini, on receiving their answers on Haldi Dadi’s long journey, start to wipe their tears, when suddenly they hear the young lady’s footsteps approaching. With no time to lose, everyone goes back to their positions, and just as the lady returns, Haldi Dadi adds an extra splash of herself into the dish as all her babies go back to sleep.