My name is Shilpi Verma – this is the part where I introduce myself and tell you a little bit of my story. A native Canadian, I was born in India and lived extensively in the Middle East. Lines drawn on Earth need not be a big part of one’s introduction, and yet, it’s these geographical stamps that end up defining most of us.
I was born in one of the wet, rainy estates of Assam known for its forests, tea, and unfortunately, little else. I have no memories of Assam, except the ones I have made up looking at old photographs repeatedly. Intrinsically, my love affair with Assam happened when we moved away; its culture and food remaining a big part of my youth.
We moved to Rajasthan, when I was two, and it is here where my earliest memories live. Known for its heat, palaces, spicy food, and folklore, Rajasthan is situated amidst a wide, inhospitable desert inhabited by antithetically warm, humble and hospitable people. There is something about these places, their decrepit grandeur and startling beauty that stays with you; and there’s something about their people, who find ways to survive and thrive despite mother nature’s barren, infertile deference. My memories, (fleeting as they are), are laced with half-forgotten sounds and smells of these places. I remember most of it through food, in fact, I relate to most life experiences through my taste buds. My love for cooking originated from trying to reproduce the taste of my mother’s cooking, or making vain attempts at constructing nostalgic meals using my olfactory senses.
When I was twelve, I was uprooted and brought to Kuwait. I say uprooted, because, at the time, it felt like separation from something familiar and promising. My formative years were just that, malleable, solitary and filled with awkwardness – mostly about myself. There is (obviously) a teaching moment here. Without the option of rebellion with any other vices, I turned to literature. And it was phantasmagorical. It was easy to forget about passive bullying and cliques and first-world problems when I was armed with Brontë. Reliving Kuwait has always been cathartic, insolvent and somewhat glorified. My favorite recollections date back to evenings when we would sit in our car, parked outside a local Shawarma/ Fatayer joint and eat incredible food in what can only be described as a religious experience. My father would gesture, using ridiculous sign language and broken Arabic numbers to the staff who would come by the window to take our orders.
Nevertheless, as defining as my teenage years were, nothing prepared me for Trichy. I moved back to India when I was 18, this time to a Southern state, for university. I’ve tried explaining Trichy to A, and fallen short, several times. I even took him back, but it wasn’t the same. It is unfortunate that I can’t describe it, because that experience had a colossal impact on me, one that I didn’t realize until about 5 years after I graduated. It was my place of firsts. I lived first-hand through almost every complex emotion known to mankind in those 4 years. I suppose it is like that for everyone. You get restless, fearless and look life in the eye for the very first time. Aside from all the internal metamorphosis, Trichy not only sponsored my wanderlust, it also gave me an appetite for art. The food scene was consistently bad, making us creative and adventurous in our search for good food. I’m yet to find food as good as some shady joints in the far corners of Tiruchirappalli.
Cut to Toronto. I call it home because I finally get that feeling after all these years, when the plane touches down on the runway – I sigh, and think, “I’m home”. It is here that I realized that living is a hectic, unctuous thing. Thankfully, I had a deus ex machina who nudged me into living slowly and breathing even slower. Things take on a sensual quality, the slower you do them. When I’m not at work, you’ll find me pursuing light behind the lens, chasing my breath at a Yoga class, developing flavors in my kitchen or trying to persuade A to go to a Farmer’s market or Flea market with me (or Anthropologie, whatever).