An excerpt from

by Jaspreet Singh

For a long time now I have stayed away from certain people, I say to myself as I look out the train window.
I was late getting to the station and almost missed the Express because of the American President. His motorcade was passing the Red Fort, not far from the railway terminal. The President is visiting India to sign the nuclear deal. He is staying at the Hotel Maurya and the chefs at the hotel have invented a new kebab in his honor. All this in todayís paper. Rarely does one see the photo of a kebab on the front page. It made my mouth water.
Not far from me, a little girl is sitting on the aisle seat. A peach glows in her hand. Moments ago she asked her mother, What do we miss the most when we die? And I almost responded. But her mother
put a thick finger on her lips: Shh, children should not talk about death, and she looked at me for a brief second, apologetically. Food, I almost said to the girl. We miss peaches, strawberries, delicacies
like Sandhurst curry, kebab pasanda and rogan josh. The dead do not eat marzipan. The smell of bakeries torments them day and night.
Something about this exchange between mother and daughter has upset me. I look out the window. The train is cutting through villages. I donít even know their names. But the swaying yellow mustard fields and the growing darkness make me worry about the time I resigned from the army. I find myself asking the same question over and over again. Why did I allow my life to take a wrong turn?
Fourteen years ago I used to work as chef at the Generalís residence in Kashmir. I remember the fruit orchard by the kitchen window. For five straight years I cooked for him in that kitchen, then suddenly handed in my resignation and moved to Delhi. I never married. I cook for my mother. Now after a span of fourteen years I am returning to Kashmir.
†It is not that in all these years I was not tempted to return. The temptation was at times intense, especially when I heard about the quake and the rubble it left behind. But the earth shook mostly on the enemy side. During my five years of service I was confined to the Indian sideóthe more beautiful side.
The beauty is still embedded in my brain. It is the kind that cannot be shared with others. Most important things in our lives, like recipes, cannot be shared. They remain within us with a dash of this and a whiff of that and trouble our bones.