Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

I am chopping mushrooms for dinner. Asian style noodles in coconut milk. The groceries were delivered just a few hours ago, by a man in a mask.

It’s 2020, and the virus is at large in San Francisco.

My kitchen is sterile. Spotless.

Chop, chop, chop. Dice, dice, dice. One perfectly smooth mushroom after another pops out of a shrink wrapped plastic container.

It has been three months since I left my neighborhood.

Yet, I have miraculously stayed well fed.

It’s expensive. I just paid $103 dollars for fruit and vegetables.

Perhaps I should grow food.

I looked up “potting soil” on Amazon the other day, and learnt there are several kinds.

Growing up in India, I always thought the earth came with soil.

Didn’t it?

Here, the soil is also controlled. Branded. Precise.

Luscious mangoes, an abundance of sickly sweet fruits and crisp 
green vegetables.
Growing everywhere.
Flies, bees, snakes,
taking what's theirs.

Chop, chop, chop. $, $, $.

The reviews on Amazon on a brand of potting soil I wanted to buy:

“1 star. BEWARE of GNATS! I didn’t order any gnats.”

“3 star. This soil contains bat guano. Wear a mask.”

Nope. I don’t want gnats or bats. I just want regular soil.

The kind that I put into my mouth when I was a child because Lord 
Krishna had done it too.
It tasted delicious. Like rain.

Why should I pay $40 for soil? Decisions.

Chop, chop, chop. Saute, saute, saute.

I take a look at the scraps and decide that composting these tiny bits of root from the scallions is too much trouble.

I toss it into my massive trash can. Guilty.

Mango skins and seeds dumped under the coconut tree in 
my house in Chennai. Water. Coconuts.
Seeds turn into plants.
Plants turn back into soil.

I open a can of coconut milk. The sharp edges cut my fingers. Ouch.

Fresh coconut from our tree, brought down by a local tree climber. 
Break the coconut so that the juice flows directly into my mouth.
Grate the coconut.
Don’t rush, it takes a while.

I empty the can of coconut milk into the pan.

Saute, saute, saute.

I trash the empty can, blood and all.

The coconut shell is used to scoop out rice. 
The delicious grated coconut is made into a chutney, with
fresh curry leaves from the backyard. The curry plant grows from the earth. Soil.

I fish out the scallion roots from the trash can and put them in a bowl of water.

I want to grow something, even if I’m afraid of the soil that comes in bright plastic packets.

The noodles are done. The tomatoes taste like tomatoes, and the mushrooms like mushrooms. They do their jobs perfectly, like everyone else here.

The chutney tastes like the earth and the air around.                                                             Salty, hot, complex. 
The curry leaves, heady.
Like the time I put the soil in my mouth. The soil that came with the earth.
The chutney is for the family.
Aunts, uncles, cousins.

I’ve made a lot of noodles.

No matter, I’ll eat it tomorrow and the day after.

It’s going to be a while.

Clean, clean, clean.

Scrub, scrub, scrub.

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