The X Page: A Storytelling Workshop

Masala Dabba

by Sanjana Srikant


Jeera, kadugu, dried red chilli, urad dal, and of course, turmeric. The five spices in my mum’s masala dabba.

I remember sitting on the marble kitchen counter at the house I grew up in, in Chennai. I was three, maybe four years old. I sat transfixed as Amma boiled water in a steel saucepan for the first round of chai of the day. It was our quiet, loving, daily ritual. I watched the graphite-like leaves swell and foam when they hit the boiling water and breathed in their earthy aroma, sweet and malty with a hint of bitterness. It was magic.

But soon enough, I grew bored. Amma knew just what to do to keep me from pestering her. She handed me the masala dabba. A wide, shallow, cylindrical steel box with a translucent lid containing five congruent small tumblers, each with its own spice and a tiny measuring spoon.

It contained everything I took for granted and became everything I would yearn for as I put years and miles between that child on the counter and the woman I am now.

Turmeric is vibrancy and life.

2014 Chestnut residence, the University of Toronto.

Amma and Cheeka (that’s what I call my dad; he won’t answer to anything else) just moved me into my dorm room. I have a spectacular view of the Canada Life building with its imposing façade on tree-lined, regal University Avenue. Everything sparkled under the noon-day September sun.

I’m going to meet people from everywhere! I’m going to learn SO much! Omg I don’t have a curfew!  

Kadugu is small, feisty, spluttery, and explosive.

2018 Queen’s Park Subway Station

I stood at the intersection of University Avenue and College Street gazing up at a row of country flags. I had hurried over those pavements every day for four years. Today, I was stopped in my tracks by a flood of memories of moments, people, and places, spinning around me.

Oh the places you’ll go, darling girl. Plenty of life left.

2021 to 2022

Chennai, Beach Road

Amma was sick, so I left home (did I just refer to Canada as “home”?!) and went back—well, home. I rediscovered a child-woman. Quiet, resilient, a receiver of stories. I found my people, and among them, old, buried family treasure, wounds that needed tending, and I gave care.

Hello, there. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve missed you.

I’ve missed you too, my love.

Dried red chilli is wisdom, lending comforting warmth, and unapologetic heat.

Now, the University of Waterloo

I began to learn how to treat myself the way I would a dear friend—slowly but surely, speaking encouragingly, patiently, and respectfully. I sat beside discomfort without fear and distrust.

In the center of the masala dabba is an empty spot, where a perfectly circular vial would fit, only Amma didn’t have one in there. I think about that now. How it holds space. In the center of everything is an empty space. Am I that empty space?