How not to make my father’s sardine achar

Around mid-July become deeply maudlin and morose. Be confused about why colours seem muted, sounds seem dulled, about why you’re suddenly short-tempered and tetchy with your family. Wonder if you have a hormone imbalance. Check for pain or injury. When you find nothing glaringly wrong, wonder if mood swings characterise anxiety or depression.

Days later, when you see flash-frozen sardines at the fishmonger, pounce before anyone else has a chance to buy them. Beam at the cashier, thrilled that you’ll soon be eating your father’s famous sardine achar, while you silently run through the list of ingredients you’ll need.


Corriander; fresh.
Green chilli; fresh.
Black pepper; finely ground.
Salt.
Turmeric.
Chilli powder.
Fenugreek seeds; optional.
Mustard seeds.
Curry leaves; fresh.
Garlic; crushed.
Ginger; minced.
Oil.
Vinegar.

Put the sardines in the freezer when you get home. Promise yourself that you’ll defrost them at the weekend, when you’ll have more time to devote. Put the rest of the shopping away.

When the weekend arrives, be so busy that you don’t have time to even think about the sardines.

When Monday returns with tedious regularity, make a mental note to defrost the sardines on Wednesday — hump days were meant for distractions.

Repeat this process every few days till the end of July. Allow a worry, the shape and size of a frozen sardine, to nestle in your short-term memory, its nose pointing to something buried deeper. Let it defrost.

Occasionally notice the puddles of emotion created by the defrosting sardine memory-marker tucked between your synapses. Try to peer into these puddles for clues to the catalyst for your erratic temper, the elusive root cause that sits at the edge of your brain, on the tip of your tongue, always just out of reach. Conclude that nobody ever received wisdom in the puddles from defrosting sardines. Not even Joan of Arc.

As July metamorphoses into August, realise that it has been 22 years since your father died. Be caught between sadness, shock, and shame that you no longer mark the day, but when your oldest child asks you a question about your childhood, perk up. Narrate a rambling story about the time your mother and her friends so successfully threw a surprise Father’s Day party, that your father turned up in his lungi and undershirt, thoroughly surprised. Allow the knot of emotion in the pit of your stomach to loosen.

Resolve to make the sardine achar next weekend, and mark the day next year.


*Note: the sardine achar recipe is actually my mother’s, but after my father’s takeover of the kitchen, it became one of his signature dishes.

Image credit: Pixabay/elle_kh

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2 Replies to “How not to make my father’s sardine achar”

    1. Thank you! It’s so strange, isn’t it, this grief thing? It morphs and changes and reshapes in unpredictable ways.

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