Publishers: Westland Publications
For Sarina Kamini’s Kashmiri family, food is love, love is faith, and faith is family. It’s cause for total emotional devastation when, ten years after her Australian mother is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, unaddressed grief turns the spice of this young food writer’s heritage to ash and her prayers to poison. At her lowest ebb, Sarina’s dead Ammi’s typed-up cooking notes become a recipe for healing, her progress in the kitchen marked by her movement through bitterness, grief and loneliness—the daal that is too fiery and lumpen; her play with salt that pricks and burns. In teaching herself how to personalize tradition and spirituality through spice, Sarina creates space to reconsider her relationship with Hinduism and God in a way that allows room for questions. She learns forgiveness of herself for being different and comes to accept that family means change and challenge as much as acceptance and love.
Spirits in a Spice Jar is a story of personal growth and understanding- that of the author mostly, but also of myself as a reader. Noted as a non-fiction, this book also dabbles in the various genres of autobiography, epistolary, a cookbook, and philosophy/spiritual. It has been an enriching read, that certainly must not be missed by those seeking the meaning of their lives.
We follow the author as she explores her rich heritage, almost a decade after her mother has been diagnosed by the Parkinson’s disease. Food serves as a medium to help her come to terms with her grief and denial, as she tries to understand herself by cooking through a set of recipes her Ammi had used. It is a spiritual journey for her as she comes to terms with who she is as a person in herself, as a wife, a mother and a daughter, and accepting and loving that; her experience in discovering her own faith is also awe-inspiring. The mother-daughter dynamic is also realistically portrayed here and I applaud the author’s bravery in doing so- baring her deepest feelings. There is this magnificent web of emotions juxtaposing the author’s role as a daughter/child for her parents and as a mother for her own children.
The naming of the chapters was also an interesting thing- for food marks milestones in our lives; so much so that it would be sad to disregard their importance in our lives- even those of the smallest of cardamom pods. As the blurb of the book says, “food is love, love is faith, and faith is family”; food is cathartic, while cooking can be an anti-depressant for so many revelers. The book also covers the social impact of what the exodus of her ancestors, who were Kashmiri Pandits, did to the later generations. The language used is comparatively easy and understandable, often recessing into philosophical meditations by the author. When it comes to the book cover, I feel that they are very essential as they convey the depth of the story and also attract the readers. Spirits in a Spice Jar has a beautiful rustic themed cover, that resonates with the Indian in me, personally. Artfully placed bay leaves, peppercorns, and star anises almost produce a mirage of an almost tangible fragrance for me. It is a soul-stirring.
However, I do think that adding more family scenes would have been preferable- especially those of the author’s life as a small child living with her two brother and happy parents- of the happy times, basically.
I had a heartwarming, heart-stopping time reading this book. There was an instance of a full-on sob fest as I made my way through it. Not a book I will be forgetting anytime soon, for sure, I rate Spirits in a Spice Jar a 5/5 stars.