When Mumma hugs me, I smell buttermilk even though I have never seen her make it.
My grandmother used to make white butter, sitting in a sunny courtyard, slapping milk with a wooden beater that looked like the wheels of a bullock cart. Thick milk in a steel pail, at a time when milk used to be milk. Wobbling white butter pulled out by her plump hands, piled up like the marble steps of a mausoleum.
Bubbles floated in the remaining milky water, thin and sweet, smelling of prelapsarian plenitude. The leftovers of love, poured into pots and plants, thus allowed to grow.
Buttermilk is something I associate with my grandmother and her farmhouse in the foothills of the mountains, not with my mother and her compact kitchen in a concrete city. I wonder when this pheromonal transfusion took place between my mother and my grandmother. I wonder if I too will smell of pastoral bovinity when I’ve never made white butter with a bullock cart beater. I have read about intergenerational trauma, and I wonder if this too is a game that destiny will win. Could my essence be the same as my mother and my grandmother despite the pain of my deliberate metamorphosis.
The smell of buttermilk, the smell of my mother is fecund. She smells of sickly-sweet love, of oozing weaknesses and maternal secretions, of bodies that could meld into each other. The smell repels me now. Nowadays I have to brace myself when I hug my mother. To be a child is no easy thing. To need a mother again is a vanquishment.
Or perhaps it is not buttermilk that I remember but the separation of butter from milk. Perhaps it is not the milk of motherhood that tugs at me but the weaning, the act of separation. This suggestion of improbable independence consoles me; this consolation makes me feel small.
My mother, smiling through grey watery eyes, hugs me tight. Our bodies meet; joined, frayed. Smells dissipate.
Sandy Kundra Verma has an Mst in Creative Writing from Cambridge University. Her first novel ‘Burnt Toast’ was published in 2012 and her short fiction has been published in The Barren Magazine, The Bangalore Review and has won The Michael Holroyd Prize. Her current manuscript has won the Darling Axe First Page Challenge and The BPA Pitch Prize. From Mumbai, she lives in London with her partner and two teenagers who take up way too much of her time.