By Nitasha Thomson
Aruna wheeled her trolley down the aisle of the Duffy Brothers Market in Hurstville, a suburb in southern Sydney, frowning at its annoying tendency to keep veering to the left. It seemed to her that the damn thing had a mind of its own!
Since arriving in Australia three months earlier with husband Vishal, she had discovered a new found love of food shopping. “I suppose many new migrants feel this way until the novelty wears of” she thought, as she steered her way through the crowded store.
The day after their arrival in Sydney, she had shrugged off the jet lag and ventured into the local Woollies supermarket. Wandering around its massive spaces, she stared wide eyed at the shelves groaning with products such as she had never seen before.
Her reaction to the displays of meat and seafood had been somewhat less positive!
As a child of Brahmin parents, Aruna had never eaten any kind of animal flesh and the thought of doing so was abhorrent to her. Not surprisingly, her first sighting of the local butcher shop was a shocking experience!
She found herself repulsed by the piles of animal body parts and musky odour that permeated the surrounding air. It seemed to her that the shoppers surging at the front of the shop were as different from her as inhabitants of another planet!
She could hardly bring herself to look at the labels identifying the bloody mounds of animal flesh and bones.
As the weeks went by she learned to concentrate on the things she enjoyed, such as this trip to the green grocers,a virtual cornucopia of delights that she could delve into, to her heart’s content.
She completed her shopping and drove home thinking about the event to which she and Vishal had been invited at the weekend. It was that most revered of all Aussie gatherings, the barbecue, a feast for carnivores and one that she dreaded attending!
“I should think of it as an opportunity to meet the neighbours and make new friends”, she told herself as she piled apples and bananas into the green ceramic fruit bowl on the dining table.
It was nearly seven thirty pm when Vishal’s car turned into the driveway.
Aruna hurried to the lounge room window and peered through the curtains. She watched as moments later, her husband walked up to their front door. Behind him, the sky was ablaze with the colours of the setting sun.
“He really is quite an attractive man”, Aruna thought as she opened the door.
“Sorry I am a bit late Aruna, we had an urgent staff meeting”, he said placing his briefcase on the hall table “It’s so good to be home. Just give me a minute to change for dinner” he said, as he headed to their bedroom.
Aruna sighed as she placed a bowl of cucumber raita and crispy pappadums on the dining table. She would have to wait for the right moment to raise her concerns about the barbecue.
She turned to see Vishal standing in the doorway, dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt.
“Have you thought about what we can take to the barbecue on Sunday” he asked taking her by surprise, “they are all meat eaters and I know how uncomfortable that can be for you”.
“I am dreading the whole thing to tell you the truth”, Aruna responded, “the sight and smell of all that meat is sure to make me retch.”
“Well, you will have to get used to it as Aussies do eat a lot of meat” Vishal remarked, adding gently “but you know that of course. Sorry to be so blunt!”
“That does not mean that I have to surrender my values, besides, I think it’s a great opportunity for me to demonstrate my incredible vegetarian cooking skills” smiled Aruna although the smile did not quite reach her eyes.
“I simply cannot understand why Aussies consider fish to be a vegetarian food, they are living creatures after all as opposed to a bunch of carrots or a potato!” she announced with a dramatic gesture.
Vishal nodded, “Unfortunately, misunderstandings are quite common when different cultures come together. One of my colleagues told me a funny story about the time when he invited his new Chinese neighbours to a party, telling them to “bring a plate” and they turned up with an empty plate thinking it was an Aussie custom!”
Aruna laughed out loud “That’s hilarious, but it would have been so embarrassing for them poor things”.
Their neighbours Sally and Adam Wilkins were among the nicest people Aruna had met since she and Vishal migrated to Australia. When Adam rang to invite them to the barbecue, Vishal accepted without hesitation, seeing it was a first step towards developing new friendships and connections in their life Down Under.
As they began to eat, Vishal said, “Let’s talk about Sunday shall we? I know its bothering you a lot.” It was disconcerting, how well he seemed to know her, even thought they had only been married for fifteen months in a traditional arranged marriage.
Aruna’s eyes brimmed with tears “It’s all so new to me and I feel embarrassed about being different and creating a problem for our hosts”, she said. Lately, it seemed as if the slightest thing was enough to stir her emotions and bring on pangs of homesickness and longing for her family back in India.
Pushing back his chair, Vishal went around the table and gathered her into his arms. “You really don’t need to be concerned Aruna” he spoke softly “they are looking forward to meeting you and there will be plenty of salads and other food for you to enjoy. Besides, I have found Aussies to be quite partial to Indian food so you can take one of your vegie dishes along to share with our new friends”.
Aruna wiped away her tears, feeling somewhat reassured and they finished the meal in silence. (To be continued…..)
Nitasha Thomson nee Ogale is the author of Pavlova and Pappadums – a collection of eight short stories. The book is nearing completion and will be submitted for publication early in 2016.
The Barbecue is an abridged version of one of the stories that appears in this book.