Suddenly and devastatingly, our big boy, Charlie, has become big enough to leave home. How does that happen? One minute we’re changing nappies and hanging out in the ball pool, the next he’s got himself a bank account and a place at university in Scotland.
After a long summer of goodbyes as his friends here in Delhi left for various corners of the globe, last week it was his turn. Lots of tears, yes, but also lots of ‘last’ meals. Like the wonderfully comforting garlic pepper chicken prawns at Swagath in Defence Colony – Charlie’s favourite and one of Delhi’s most devour-able dishes. For lunch on his last day Dean and I took him for Delhi’s best sandwiches and cold coffee at Novelty Stores in Jangpura where he loved the old fashioned stool-at-the-counter vibe.
But his last dinner had to be at home and he asked for his favourite: chicken pie. I made them in individual tins with everyone’s names on – a bit of a fiddle but it kept my mind off the the very imminent departure.
I packed him off with a recipe notebook containing family favourites, and like a good Indian mummy I padded out his case with chaat masala ( I actually found myself saying “you might need it for the bland food”), garam masala and enough Five Stars and All Bar Ones to last him till Christmas.
The days since Charlie left have been the saddest we’ve gone through as a family; knowing that our boy is out there on his own and until December we’ll only set 4 places for dinner.
We’re all dealing with it in different ways. His brother and sister message him constantly, his Dad makes sure the Nelson menfolk are all watching their beloved Tottenham Hotspur at the same time, and I’m sending recipes and reminding him to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day.
The day after he left I went to Old Delhi. This increasingly seems to be my cure-all – there’s something about the overwhelming chaos of the place that calms me down and eclipses other concerns, at least for a little while.
Old Delhi will have to work overtime in the next few weeks as I try to get used to Charlie leaving home.
And, as luck would have it, I will be spending a huge amount of time there over the next year as I’ve just signed a contract with Aleph to write a book. The working title is ‘A Year in Old Delhi’, a portrait of (a love letter to?) a world that has transformed my life over the last few years. I’ll be exploring the food and the people who make the food; peeking into homes and restaurants; collecting stories and recipes. I’ll be watching the changes in the seasons and the way the food reflects the rhythms of the year. I’ll be there for all the high days and holidays and plenty of others in between. And of course, I’ll be blogging as I go.
I’m incredibly excited about the book – without question, the highlight of my writing life – and to have the opportunity to spend the next few months in what is fast becoming my spiritual home is a huge thrill. To be working with publisher David Davidar, and agent David Godwin is an enormous, privileged bonus.
The publishing contract arrived yesterday – probably the most wonderful letter I’ve ever received but also the scariest. Apart from all the daunting ‘hereafters’ and ‘witnesseths’ there are phrases like ‘in the event of the death of the Author’.
But perhaps the most terrifying of all is ‘The Author shall deliver the typescript of the Work (of approx 100,000 words) to the Publisher by 31st January 2012 (“Submission Date “).
Yikes! That’s a LOT of words. That’s really SOON. Better crack on. Wish me luck.