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The Heat

by on December 19, 2010

“It is already so late Andrew, will you not stay for dinner with us?”

Grandma Chaturvedi was a conservative, reserved matriarch from the old country who generally steered well clear of her grandson’s white Jo’burg friends: this was the first time she had ever addressed me.

“You don’t mind Indian food do you? We like it traditional here.”

“I’m not that English! Hot is cool by me.”

At the time I thought this both true and funny. The old woman just nodded and smiled quietly, eyes twinkling.

That first mouthful of curry was really good: full of rich, strong flavours. It was after the second swallow that the heat began. I felt it first high up in my sinuses: a tingling, flowing warmth – not unpleasant at first. It spread downwards like slick hot tar, tonsils dowsed in fire, my throat a tubular inferno. I was blinded by a tsunami of tears but could hear the suppressed giggles of the family and the desperate wheezy gulps of my body trying to breathe. Then the heat slowly surged upwards: a Salamander climbing my tongue with tiny barbed claws; fiery spines scraping my palate; liquid flame coating my lips.

By the time a glass of Lassi was pressed into my hands my hosts were incoherent with laughter and I, in too much pain to be embarrassed, eventually laughed with them.

That night when I said my last thanks to Grandma Chaturvedi she just smiled and said in her quiet precise English, “Where I come from they say a great curry burns twice – once on the way in and once on the way out.”

There seemed no easy response to this, so I forced a nervous smile and fled.

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4 Comments
  1. parfles permalink

    Great description of death by heat – in some ways even more torturous than comovedy’s hellfire story 🙂 I loved the paragraph describing the heat, the one with the hot tar, infernos, tsunamis and salamanders. Excellent writing!

    I would have liked the story to have a little more to say – some sort of, um, character growth (I know, 250 words, I know) but something that frames the account – why is this story being told?

    I would have inserted a comma in the first sentence:
    “It is already so late, Andrew, will you not stay for dinner with us?”

    The last sentence is a bit of a let-down – after being able to laugh at himself earlier, the main character leaves on a forced, nervous smile, turning the experience into a bad one rather than one of some sort of personal progression. I would suggest leaving it off altogether – Grandma’s warning is a great ending in itself!

    Thanks, really enjoyed this one.

  2. I thought the description of the curry was great – I am not a curry fan so it rang true with me 😀 Great stuff.

  3. cbraz permalink

    This was a great vignette from life. It seems that the curry description paragraph is generally favoured and I feel the same. It is the best part of the piece and beautifully descriptive. The metaphor at times is a little over the top – “tsunami of tears” and “tubular inferno” but this highlights how intense the heat is and really works in the context. I particularly liked the salamander bits.

    I thought the introductory bits were good, but was a little confused by the race reference – it didn’t seem to connect anywhere else and left me wondering how the grandma interacted with her grandson’s non-white friends.

    I also really enjoyed the two paragraphs following the curry description – they complete the vignette very well. “Incoherent with laughter” felt natural and really worked for me. And the grandmother’s earthy humour also worked well. But, like parfles, I would prefer that the last sentence was left out because it ends the warm and amusing vignette with a slightly negative edge.

    Lovely amusing piece, thanks.

  4. This made me laugh! Great punchline. I enjoyed it, and think that it was set up quite well.

    The characters’ voices worked for me: Chaturvedi sounded Indian, while if Andrew didn’t sound in my head like you, he did sound South African. Also, I enjoyed your use of the Salamander imagery.

    The very last line worked slightly less well for me (others have commented on it, but I feel less strongly about it). I do think it brings across the shock and surprise that we, the reader, should be feeling at what this “conservative matriarch” has just said. It heightens the humour for me.

    I wondered what “the old country” was in terms of a South Africa tale. I assumed in this case it meant India. It doesn’t sound like a very South African English term to me.

    > Lassi
    Should this perhaps be lower-case?

    > quiet precise English
    Wondering if you meant “quiet” or “quite”? If “quiet”, I would have liked it followed by a comma: “her quiet, precise English”.

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