If I walk past an Indian takeaway, the slightest whiff of a curry will get my tastebuds tingling and my mouth watering. Next thing I know, I’ll be stood in my kitchen with my mini steel spice pots, thinking I’m Madhur Jaffrey as I throw random ingredients into a stainless steel pot and watch the spices mingle with the garlic and onion as it all crackles and transforms into something curry-like.
But it’s more than the smell of Indian food that whets my appetite for all things Indian. Even though I was born and bred in London and have only visited India three times (albeit once for two months), there is an affinity and love for it which is hard-wired into me and the slightest reminder can stir the most powerful affection.
Even simple things like a trip to the Indian food store in Finchley. If a film song is blaring out on Sunrise Radio, the rich orchestral melodies often make me want to dance around the giant bottles of sunflower oil, like some Bollywood actress prancing around trees. And I don’t even really understand Hindi. But the music conjures up an image, a glorified image no doubt, of India at its happiest and most alluring.
And as I’m drifting down the shopping aisle, with my tiny, toy-like trolley, picking up packets of dried chillies, cashew nuts and rice flour, this rare trip feels wonderfully ordinary, as though I’m in India, doing my weekly shop at my neighbourhood store. When an adorable massi asks me to reach for a jar of chutney she can’t quite reach and the shopkeeper brings out his best batch of mangoes from the back, it evokes a nostalgia for a life I never even had. Why that is, who knows.
But it’s easy to idolise what you only have great memories of. On my last trip to the homeland, I was reminded of how crowded and noisy Mumbai has become over the years. The energy of the city is irresistible but the incessant sounds of horns beeping late into the night, people everywhere all of the time, trendy Indian teens chatting non-stop on their mobiles was sometimes overwhelming. I suppose if I really get a craving, I could always drive to Wembley...