You're duty-bound in grief to remember only the good things. So before I tell you what a good cook my mum was, let me tell you what a bad cook she was.
She used to make this pasta bake that had potatoes and peas and baked beans and tuna… and pasta in it. Covered in mild cheddar. Left to harden in the oven before being served up in a dollop on a plate. She used to cook this aubergine shaak that would involve decimating the poor aubergine with heat till it was like viscous that slimed about in your mouth. She used to make sandwiches, Indian-style, she called them, that were fried potatoes and chillis, sandwiched in thin white sliced bread and scrunched up into a toaster for fifteen minutes. Serve with ketchup mixed with tamarind… tommy k - Indian-style.
My mum was the best cook in the world when it came to Indian food. Maybe it was the abundance of cumin seeds in everything she made. Maybe it was the reams of garlic, broken off from a larger frozen slate of the stuff in the fridge. Maybe it was the fact that she had cooked these dishes time and time again and had no interest in developing or evolving the recipes that made her the best. She attained Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours of genius.
I grew up in a sexist household where my mother, the matriarch, after a full day's work, would be left to cook for the family while I pretended to do my homework and wrote rap lyrics, my sister pretended to do her homework and watched television quietly in mum's room and while my dad sat in a corner of the room, drinking and thinking about business. When our own mealtimes came, we would go downstairs and eat, sat in an empty kitchen or sat while she washed up, silently, usually with a book or the notebook that had all my rap lyrics. I tried to time my meals with her not being in the kitchen because she would ask questions about school I didn't want to answer.
The kitchen was always a warm mess. She took sole responsibility for keeping it tidy and she couldn't be bothered. She had two jobs and she had to cook for us. So there were dustings of flour on each surface. The bench was wobbly. There were turmeric stains on the walls. And the sink had a constant stream of things needed to be washed up.
It was the most important room in the house. I just didn't know it at the time. I was a moody teenager who wanted to be like my favourite rappers.
Now my mum's not around, the kitchen feels like a shrine to former glories. I call it the museum of how things were now no one uses it to cook anymore, just heat things up, or make sandwiches. The hob is shop-fresh in its metallic glow. The oven is used as storage for trays that have no place in the cupboards. And the fridge, my dad's fridge, is that of a student's - cheese, chillis, milk and fruit yoghurts. The Tupperware of donated dishes are stacked high, the bottom one hideously out of date.
And it makes me miss my mum. Because this was what she was best at. Regardless of whether she felt duty-bound to cook for us, when I finally took an interest in learning, she admitted she loved it. She loved being in the kitchen. She said, there was something about the sound of things frying bubbling, the sound of a knife chopping. I reminded her that she never used the chopping board shaped like a pig. She cut things into the palm of her hand, stood with a foot up on a bench. The chopping board was for when I was home.
Growing up above the kitchen, I lived on the sound of the pressure cooker, the rising heat and warmth the room imbued, the smell of onions and garlic.
She had these two phrases to express annoyance. If you were pecking at her, hectoring and going on and on, she'd say, 'maro mathoo nay ka'. Don't eat my head. If you were being wilful, she'd say 'thel piva ja'. Go and drink some oil.
No wonder I'm obsessed with food.
My mother would have been 62 today. Donate 25p to Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation by buying my novella 'The Time Machine'. It's £1. It's about my mum. It has three of her recipes in it.