Dast e Shoma Dard na Kone
1992 – 2018 [Extracts]
is how we say,
according to my basic
knowledge of Persian.
Though I’ve recently learned that,
اتسد امش درد دنکن
may your hands not hurt.
Dast e shoma dard na kone, Shirin.
Dast e shoma dard na kone, Granny.
Dast e shoma dard na kone, Dolly.
Dast e shoma dard na kone, Ma.
. . .
Dolly harbours such an extraordinary amount of energy, even at her age, that it befuddles all the other octogenarians who live in the apartments beside her. Arash has known Dolly since he was an infant; Thrity and Dolly have been inseparable most evenings, well before he was born. Dolly always brought Arash sweets.
On this day, he hopes to get some help from Dolly, who Thrity told him would be the best person to seek help from for his textile-making practice. There’s a part of Mumbai where they sell many types of yarn, beads, embroidery threads and equipment; Arash doesn’t feel confident enough, as a visitor, to venture out those ways by himself. (Note: by 2016 he has travelled across most of Europe and some of Asia—yet the idea of getting lost at a market in Mumbai, his birthplace, still terrifies him.)
Dolly obliges one afternoon and takes rein of her husband’s old Lambretta scooter. She asks Arash to hop on behind her, and hold tight.
“Hold what?” he asks nervously.
“Anything you can grip onto, jaan,” Dolly’s voice echoes from inside her helmet, “—so many dangly bits to choose from now that I’m eighty-six.”
. . .
“This is how you temper the spices—gently, never let the seeds burn,” Nilofar explains, “and then we put in all the sēv.” She spills the contents of a bowl filled with fine shafts of crushed-up durum wheat vermicelli.
Arash yawns beside her in his boxer shorts and sūdreh at seven in the morning; sēv is a sweet burnt wheat breakfast meal that they’re making for Shirin’s birthday.
“Okay now, just move it off the flame if you think it’s going too dark, jaan,” Nilofar demonstrates, shuffling their wide copper pan away from the flame.
“When do you add the sugar?” Arash leans in.
“Now—watch.” Nilofar uses a wooden paddle to create three mounds of wheat on the surface of the pan—each mound is identical in size, hugging its curved edges.
She eyeballs three, four, five tablespoons of sugar and heaps them in the centre, then says, “That’s the ratio, Ari: one hill of sugar for three hills of grain—the way we’ve always done it.”
The bubbling and melting of sugar makes Arash even sleepier; he watches his mother blend the warm, mildly burnt wheat strands with granules of sugar and spiced oil.
“Some ground cardamom and nutmeg,” Nilofar continues her alchemy, reciting as he watches.
Arash is almost sixteen and already taller than his mother. The sweet sizzle makes his head droop and rest against a firm section of flesh around the back of Nilofar’s neck.
“Jaan I’ll need two cups of rosewater—could you get moving, please?”
A Pyrex measuring cup is retrieved from the cupboard and filled with rosewater from a glass bottle.
“Perfect—now pour it in, Ari.”
The sizzle of a hot pan being soothed to rest by a cool stream of fragrant liquid.
Heat rises and begins to rumble inside the pan, creating gentle bubbles. Arash watches as the fine strands of wheat vermicelli begin to bloat and soften.
Those hard shafts are no longer pointed in straight configurations; they fold into soft bends, which curl up against each other inside a warm pool of sweetness.
. . .
Darius and Nilofar have gone into the water. They fade out of sight from the patch of shore where their kids sit—surrounded by friends, aunts and uncles who are reading or playing cards along a length of Qantab Beach, on colourful towels and beach mats made of raffia.
Arash is three years old and falls asleep on his sister’s damp shorts. Shirin isn’t sure why he’s so drowsy and begins to worry; this is most unlike her little brother, who usually plays in the sand and wobbles around the seashore, collecting treasures. The last time they returned home from the beach, his shorts were filled with so many shells and pebbles that they could barely stay up on his dimpled bottom. Arash never discarded his treasures, regardless of how they weighed him down.
By the time Nilofar and Darius returned from their swim, there was an ambulance and a small crowd surrounding the patch of shore where their friends had set up for the day. Two Omani paramedics spoke of pills that Arash may have swallowed. Nilofar, with tears streaming down her face, cried—blaming herself for leaving a dozen or so painkillers by their bedside table. Darius held her tight as the paramedics tried to resuscitate their son inside the van. When Arash’s eyes opened, his head was still planted on Shirin’s lap; under her hands of ocean sweat, she buttressed his body up between shaky limbs.
. . .
The weather is still too cold for Thrity, in spite of it being summer in December. This has been difficult to grasp—her ankles ache and swell from the humid air combined with the Southerly winds that sieve through her nightgown. Thrity steps into the backyard each morning, only briefly, to toss a bowl of day-old breadcrumbs into the grass and feed the creatures she would call her ‘little darlings.’
One evening, Arash walks down to find Thrity picking apart slices of bread from a loaf that had gone all crusty and wrong—Darius had left it on the kitchen bench in the morning, caught in a hurry to leave for work. Arash sits on the sofa beside his grandmother and almost tells her to stop, but then realises that Thrity wasn’t going to eat the bread. He watches her pinch it into the tiniest bits.
Arash imagines how these lint-sized morsels would fit perfectly between the pointy beaks of sparrows and blackbirds who visit their garden. Despite her arthritis, Thrity continues to mince any bits of bread that she could find and feed it to her birds every morning.
“You do know they’re not natives, right, Granny? In fact, I think they mostly invasive species,” Arash says one morning. Thrity ambles back from a grassy knoll in their backyard and replies, “So what jaan—aren’t we all?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Areez Katki is an artist & writer who draws from historic and social research to address the value of craft, employing textiles as an anchoring device for the migratory condition. Katki’s work has been exhibited across Aotearoa and internationally, and it is held in various national public collections. His writing has been published in Matters, Art News, Elle Magazine (India), Consider Journal, Waist, Saltwater Love and Lieu. He studied Art History and English at the University of Auckland and recently completed his Masters in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters.