“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness” – Alex Haley
I am fascinated by the concept of ‘roots’; there are many meanings of the word, but the sentiment is the same – roots must be strong and stable, roots are where we come from both geographically and symbolically, roots are earthy, nourishing, nutritious vegetables, the root is where we find the answers and the reassurance, because it is where everything begins.
I recall a piece I once wrote about my mother and her roots during a memoir writing course I took. She, and many thousands like her, made the difficult and traumatic transition from India to the UK in the late 1950s. Hers had been a sunny, hot, dusty world, one full of extended family, noise, colour, laughter, of small, shared spaces and tolerance. The new world she found herself in was cold, grey, foggy, quiet, lonely, and devoid of all that was familiar. She was uprooted, rather prematurely, before she had had the chance to become the person she was destined to be, and she had to learn a different way of being.
As a result of this transition, she had to replant herself, like an exotic non- indigenous flower, into the earth of a new, seemingly hostile landscape, and wait and hope that her roots would take and provide her stability.
Did she make a successful transition? Of course! With grace, resolve, deep inner strength, the love and devotion of her husband, my father, and eventually, through the bonds she made with her new network of friends, all of whom had been through the same uprooting.
My mother feels that most of her roots are still embedded in Indian soil. This was her Land, where her family remained, and still remain, after she had left. When she goes back ‘home’ every winter, she becomes a very different person. She is more confident, more assertive and outgoing, and more self -assured. She finds a comfort there amongst her family and old friends that seems to remind her of the carefree days of her youth, when life was a little more predictable and uncomplicated. Going back to her roots reattaches her to the identity she left behind all those years ago and with this nourishment, she flourishes. Maybe this is because she misses the old traditional ways of the world and her memories of it lie in India, the country where she was born, raised and educated. Even though India, and for that matter, the world, has changed unrecognisably, I am not sure she wants to accept it has. The innocence of a time gone by has remained ingrained in her mind.
We all require roots, stability, support and nourishment from the places where we find ourselves and the people who surround us. Without this groundedness, we feel adrift, rudderless, alone, and confused. We need to know where, and to whom we belong.
People who are adopted often say that they sensed something was not right in their lives and that they did not feel like they truly belonged to their adoptive parents and family. This feeling of not belonging can occur even if those who are adopted are surrounded by good, loving people. The roots that have been severed are unable to nourish themselves fully without being attached to familiar soil.
There are many people in the world who are becoming displaced due to war and aggression. They are being uprooted in every sense of the word, forced to flee their homes and countries, often becoming separated from those they love and from whom they have learned stability. Most of us cannot begin to imagine the horror, the heartache, and the level of fear and desperation that these people have to accept as part of their everyday lives. It is not an uprooting like the one my mother experienced, for hers was out of choice, although not one she would have made had it not been for my doctor father’s desire to spread his medical wings and settle in the UK.
Everything is relative, and there are many circumstances that lead to people becoming uprooted, but the common thread of what it means to have roots, remains. It is vital for our sanity, our peace of mind and our ability to be who we were destined to be.
In Ayurvedic philosophy, the root is hugely important, because Ayurveda treats the root cause of disease, rather than just getting rid of the effect. If the cause is not eliminated, then the effect will return. This is why we do not necessarily need to know the name of a disease to treat it. In modern medicine, we like to give names to diseases and prescribe a suitable medicine, but I feel that this can almost hinder the process of attempting to eliminate the cause.
In Ayurvedic medicine, we always look at qualities. The qualities presented and seen during illness are brought back to their correct levels during treatment. So, if Vata Dosha (see previous musing, ‘Ayurvedic Medicine’) is vitiated and it has increased in quality and quantity enough for the person to be showing symptoms, the ‘like increases like and opposites decrease each other’ Ayurvedic principle means that successful treatment requires increasing opposite qualities. This is the rule regardless of the name of the illness.
As winter approaches, it brings with it the qualities of Kapha- cold, damp, heavy, slow, dense, static and sweet. Kapha ailments include congested colds, coughs, sinus issues, bloating, water retention, lethargy, weight gain, excessive sleepiness, depression.
In the winter, ‘heating’ foods should be increased in order to keep the body warm and reduce Kapha symptoms. We should aim to increase the use of chillies, ginger, garlic, coriander, leafy green vegetables, lentils, barley, and keep biscuits, cakes and puddings as occasional treats. Sweet food is Kapha promoting. Basmati rice is good, rye bread is too, but wheat consumption should be kept to a minimum. We should try to avoid raw foods and salads at this cold time of year; we should be choosing warm over cold.
Kapha season displays the same qualities, so we need to ensure we are wrapped up, our heads and ears are protected from the cold and the wind, and that we are surrounded by others. Kapha vitiation can lead to depression and loneliness. This is not the time of year to isolate ourselves from the world!
Below is my mother’s recipe for curry of Aubergine and fenugreek (methi) leaves. It is perfect for the Kapha season, as it is high in fibre, low in calories, therefore filling without being heavy on the digestive system. It contains vitamin C, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Aubergines contain flavanoids which have been shown to reduce cholesterol and maintain heart health. Methi is a Kapha reducing food, and it also excellent for blood sugar reduction.
My mother learned this recipe when she was a young woman, still attached by the roots to her homeland.
CURRY OF AUBERGINE AND FENUGREEK LEAVES
2 medium aubergines
A bunch of fenugreek (methi) leaves (available at Indian grocers)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
A pinch of asafoetida
A pinch of bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp sunflower or rapeseed oil
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp each of ground cumin and groun coriander
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp chopped fresh ginger
A fat garlic clove chopped
1 tsp jaggery (Indian sugar- available in Indian grocers)
First of all you need to prepare the aubergines to get rid of their high water content and concentrate their flavour. Remove the stalks but leave the skin on (it contains the fibre), cut them into 1½ inch (4 cm) chunks. Then place them in a colander and sprinkle them with salt.
Put a plate on top of them and weigh it down with something heavy, then put another plate underneath to catch the juices. Leave them like this for 1 hour. Finally, rinse them and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Rinse the methi leaves and chop off and discard the stalks and any yellow leaves. Pat the leaves dry.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the mustard and cumin seeds, with the asafoetida. Once they are popping, add the ginger and garlic. Fry for a minute or two before adding the methi leaves, the bicarbonate of soda, and a little water. Mix for a couple of minutes and add the aubergine and salt, to taste. You may need to top up the water a little if it looks like it is too dry. Let it cook for about 20 minutes until the aubergine is fairly soft, before adding the turmeric, coriander and cumin powders, and allow to cook for another 15 minutes or so. You want a gravy that has incorporated all the ingredients well. When cooked, add the jaggery (the sweetness counteracts the bitterness of the methi). Finally, check the seasoning.
Serve with flat breads and basmati rice, with a small amount of plain yoghurt on the side.