In another life of mine, I volunteer with PEN International, which advocates for the responsible freedom of expression and the release of wrongfully imprisoned writers. Although we are a worldwide organisation, it gets a little tricky being critical of some governments and it is not always easy to be a journalist, poet, playwright, novelist, or writer under some regimes. It can get you in trouble. What that means being where I am is a certain responsibility to call out human rights abuses at home from refugee detention to media freedom, data retention, mass surveillance, all of which are increasingly important in our digital era. The other night, the Perth chapter brought over a high profile journalist who was imprisoned, and, after listening to his talk, we went out for dinner, as you do.
He was staying at the Alex Hotel, just a short walk from the State Library, and we decided it would be best to keep it local. That meant the whole of Northbridge was in our backyard and so there was a world of choice on our doorstep. Would we go sushi at nearby Aisuru? Would we go modern Lebanese at Hummus Club? Would we opt for pizza at Comet? In my humble, food blogging opinion, these were all worthy choices. The only request from our guest was that no tripe or okra was served. Keeping this in mind and not wanting to disappoint, we decided to find the place that was most likely to serve these slimy specialities. We were hoping, of course, to trigger his memory of being in jail. Alas, no one would come to the table and we settled for a curry instead, down the road at Sauma.
There were 8 of us and we needed a good feed. We left it to mum to order for us, not on account of racial profiling though she certainly has the expertise, but rather because she knows how to handle a group situation and balance the flavours that make a meal more than the sum of its dishes. And so, after a short wait, the curries arrived – mushroom and pea, roast eggplant, fish in banana leaf, legumes. You might be thinking, what is a legume curry. I thought that myself, legumes after all, being a kind of catch all from beans to peas and everything in between. This was red kidney beans, some black lentils, and some unknown ingredients, all of which would suggest that ‘legume curry’ was, in actual fact, an apt description.
And so, we munched on curry and talked the night away, spending time thinking aloud about the war on terror, the state of security, why everyone is exhausted by Israel-Palestine, what matters more than being at home, and why we had not ordered enough naan and why there was no dum aloo on the menu at all. I knocked back a few beers, but kept it in order. I was with the white haired brigade and I had driving duties in the morning.
In between, I managed to have a good conversation about poetry with someone at the table, who, to my absolute amazement, kept her white silk shirt completely clean as we made our way through thick gravy. There was no safety net and this was a high wire act, and yet, she did admirably well.
I thought about what it was to got out for curry, something I rarely do, and though it will never be as good as mum’s, there was enough to like at Sauma that I would return for. My only regret was that I did not get pani puri, but that might be for another time, when PEN brings over another guest, who wants to get their feet wet in Indian street cuisine’s tamarind glory. And that might be all we can hope for, that we get another chance to host someone else, that they can find in life after prison a little good taste in a restaurant that does not put on airs but simply puts on a few good curries and a pleasant atmosphere.