Onions, at all times, make you cry. When in the same room as you, mother cuts them talking of friends who have got married and are now blissfully pregnant, when husband chops them while watching a 1950s noir, when they are purple they make you cry, when they are white they make you cry, when on an island, they make you cry, when in memory of a small kitchen, they make you cry, till the tears blur the real and imagined.
And then thinking of a friend called Emily who stood outside the window while you cut them and cried, “I came to Europe to study creative writing and look what I am doing, I am cutting onions”, and Emily laughs and says, “Do not worry, I am sure Mary Ann also cut onions”, and you laugh through onion-tears.
Where I come from, we cannot think of life without onions and tears, onions are the mainstay of curries, they are the heroes of tadhka,the frying of onions is the smell of Punjabi homes on most evenings, we eat them raw, sliced long or in rings, sometimes with mint chutney, when as children all of us cousins met during summer vacations and most special occasion dinners consisted of rajma-chawal, my cousin and I kept our eyes on the salad plate to see who gets their hands first on it and takes the raw onions and if anyone was greedy, a fight would ensue, mothers would come running out of the kitchen with onion in one hand and knife in another, “Do not fight, it will take two seconds to cut another”, but to some of us that compensatory onion would be less of an onion. It would not have the tanginess of the lemon and salt from the salad, it would be still pungent, but it would fulfill the purpose of adding the necessary crunch to rajma and chawal.
Then in other worlds, in other cuisines, in other countries, I learnt to make do without onions, it is one chore less in the kitchen and probably fewer tears, but when I go back to mother’s home, raw onions, cooked onions, fried onions, onion paste, all forms of onions and tears appear,
except that cousins live in different continents now and we haven’t fought over a plate of salad in the last ten years, the memory though, still as pungent, can bring tears.