Memories From the Year 2030 is a collection of fictional letters, memos and visual artifacts created by a group of futurists, speculative designers, authors and artists. Read the entire series here.
At times when so much changes in the world around us, an exercise in thinking about the future might simply mean a meditation on the things that don’t change.
“PLEASE WRITE YOUR RECIPES MA” read the subject line of an email my brother had sent to our mother and I, late one Wednesday night about fifteen years ago, in 2016. I was not the primary audience for the concise yet compelling plea. The body had been treated with a similarly potent sense of brevity, “I'm not very religious and I can't really speak Marathi very well, so food is the only thing that really makes me Indian.” A single link accompanying this humble revelation navigated to an article titled, “My Father, the YouTube Star.” The author of the piece had penned a culinary ode to his family’s Chinese heritage.
What followed was an exercise in estimations — my mother’s recipes in written form. Instructions often had to be decoded, packed with layered assumptions:
When Ma said 1 inch of ginger – was that to be grated or sliced? Is the ginger the diameter of my pinky or something more closely resembling a big toe? A dash of hing (asafeotida) – how big of a dash? Are we talking a spoonful…like the miniature kind you’d often find in the tin masala dabbas in aunties’ kitchen cabinets? Or maybe she meant a generous pinch?
My favorite part of the recipes that I loved the most, however, was always the final flourish: “And one stick of kadi patta.” Kadi patta translates to curry leaf. An herb, the leaf's anise-citrus flavor is best when fresh not dried. The curry leaf is the one that gets used daily, a few sprigs tossed into hot oil to flavor dals and curries. You don't typically eat the leaf itself. It's a wild plant – nothing like curry powder.
Over 30 years ago, my mother had carefully transported a curry leaf sapling from my grandmother’s tree in New Orleans and planted it in her home’s back garden in Los Angeles. Now the curry leaf has filled out into a mini-grove of slender stalks, bushy with the pointed leaves essential to Indian cooking. 2020, the year we were irreverently confronted by the Great Awakening, was the same year I went to visit my mother’s home – careful to transport a curry leaf sapling to my own garden.
The sapling initially sat in a small white ceramic pot, on a desk I had planted by a large bay window in my living room, overlooking Downtown Oakland. At first, it lost all of its deep green leaves, they yellowed and then fell back into the small bit of earth enveloping the base of the sapling stalk. I worried I’d lost it – the plant, the closing salutation to many of my favorite home-cooked dishes, the moments I would share with my own kids as they learned about the parts of their Indian heritage worth preserving, the warmth of ghar ka khana.
But slowly, meticulously even, a sprig unfurled from the stalk, and tiny parrot green bits resembling the beginnings of leaves began to emerge. And even more slowly, small but mighty branches began to extend from the young shoot…
The plant outgrew its first home. I moved it outside this time. Because we have the space now.
It has filled out into a mini-grove of slender stalks just outside my kitchen window.
It’s Wednesday evening. I’m making my Ma’s tomato saar the only way I know how — the simple way, and for no fewer than four people.
One big can of peeled tomatoes,
¾ can of coconut milk,
1 inch of ginger,
3 pieces of garlic,
2 green chilies,
generous pinch of jeera,
three table spoonsful of ghee
a dash of hing
and one stick of kadi patta
I heat up ghee, and throw in jeera (cumin), a dash of hing…
…and one stick of kadi patta.
Radha Mistry currently leads the foresight practice at Autodesk, and spends most of her time exploring the impact of emerging technologies and how they’ll change the way we design and make things in the future.