At the age of four, I saw my mother picking the tenderly
fresh green-leafed mint plants from the edges of
our village’s running stream. She cleaned them. Washed them.
Tight them precisely in little bunches. And hang them on the branches of our cherry tree.
Under the summer sun, the freshly green mint transformed
into deep green in its dried state. With a clapping touch of her palms.
she then powdered the leaves with her heat.
She stored them in a glass jar.
Every bowl of plain yoghurt found the touch of the mint
luxurious. Other mothers in our village and the mothers
in the adjacent villages envied my mother’s eggplant dish
topped with yoghurt sauce and her-hand-dried mint.
Upon my arrival in Cambridge, UK,
I found the little Turkish market on Mill Road selling dried mint.
It added to the aesthetics of my mother’s well-taught eggplant dish.
Yet the aura of the stream and my mother’s palm
could not be recovered in the dust of this dried mint.
My fascination with the spices started with their ostensible abundance,
as everywhere we go, we find the aura of their familiarity plainly in their naming.
The simple notion of pepper and salt is as familiar—
as to say humans have had arms and feet for as long as we can remember.
Yet beyond this ordinary recurrent presence of spices,
any interest in spices must go as deep as the ancient world of
taste and trade are concerned.
The power of spices was conceived,
and awakened by curiosity, jealousy, and even violence.
In today’s world, our Instagram connects us to the world
of popular cultures and trends, singers and intellectuals.
In the worlds of antiquity and medieval,
spices were the major cosmopolitan intermingling force.
A man in Venezia would feel connected to the world of Persia
through the food made with the spices brought back from a port,
with the touch of the Indian Ocean. Spices functioned not only
as a force of cosmopolitanism but also deepening a new connection
to the larger world existent, and thus beyond one’s own sense of being.
When once I gifted a friend some saffron from Herat,
she smelled it so affectionately as if she had remembered a moment
in history fought for the littlest portion of saffron to be presented
to the most powerful king of the day.
The ancient Persians burned saffron for good gods in the fire temples
when a new king was enthroned. Only they mixed saffron in holy drinks
and offered them to one another, as good gods watched them.
Each spice has a history of its own discovery
through taste and the curiosity that follows its indefatigable search after one taste.
Jealously was the outcome when the taste was searched
in faraway lands, yet to come back for it, and then the inevitable violence followed.