Making sense with sunflowers

I turned a year older last week. But that is of little consequence. There are people who won’t, there were people who didn’t, turn a year older this year. There are lives, half-lives and still-breaths under skies riddled with missiles. The same blue skies from which planes fall and smash into bits of DNA. Snakes and ladders; that’s all it seems to be sometimes. If you can dodge a bad dice, you might be lucky enough not to be at the wrong place at the wrong time – born on that cursed strip in Gaza, seated on that plane flying over Ukraine, or walking down an empty road filled with daily dangers. And then, and then – you get to have a birthday.

So I look at sunflowers. When things don’t make much sense, when the news is a constant flow of abject misery, I look at sunflowers. Sunflowers make sense. Their orbs are filled with positive, yellow purpose; you can see why the world would need them. And you can see why a man who cut off his own ear, and later shot himself dead, needed to paint them. Sunflowers are made of hope.

As I look at them now, I can see three layers of petals around that dark brown centre. The petals are smooth and shiny like the insides of my wrist. They’re artlessly innocent in their brightness. The dark brown centre, however, is not so innocent. The dark brown centre is spiky, more deliberate. Textured for attention, for touch. Together, they make magic.

Each yellow whorl of my sunflowers sits slightly skewed, like a pile of mismatched china plates, so the rim underneath can show through. An artsy disarray; just the right amount of messiness. I can imagine nature putting the first sunflower together like an installation art, working to a haphazard jazz riff, whilst blowing smoke circles into dusk light.

Sometimes, you need the uncomplicatedness of cliches. And you need evolution to create flowers that clone the sun. So that whenever there is an eclipse of human nature, you’d have sunflowers to look at. In a white vase, in a safe room, where most things make sense most of the time.

If you’re lucky, you’d also have good food on the table, and family around it. Food that is familiar, comfortable, and as uncomplicated as strong stalks of sunflowers in clean water.

Today, everyday, I’m grateful for that.

Coconut & Garlic Chicken Broth

This is a simple recipe that I first cooked up many years ago in Calcutta; one of my kitchen experiments. It was an experiment that stuck. I have cooked it many times since, and it’s always as good as it was all those years ago. If you love coconut and garlic, you will love this as much as I do. You can, of course, replace the chicken with fish or vegetables, as I often do.


1 kg chicken
1.5 cups of freshly grated or dessicated coconut
1 white onion, thickly sliced
1 tomato, chopped
7 cloves of garlic, minced
2 green or red chillies, chopped
A bunch of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 dry red chillies
2 tbs vegetable/sunflower oil

Boil the chicken in water with salt and 2 mashed cloves of garlic.
In a pan, heat 2 tbs of oil. Add the peppercorns and dry red chillies.
When the peppercorns start to sputter, add the onions. Stir for 2 minutes, then add the tomatoes. Give it one stir and take pan off the heat.
In a blender, whizz the coconut and remaining garlic into a paste with a sprinkle of water and 1 tsp salt.
Take the boiled chicken off the heat, and put it in a serving bowl.
Into the chicken broth, spoon in the coconut paste, the onion and tomato mix, coriander leaves, and chopped chillies as needed.
Stir it all in. Serve with steamed rice, or on its own.



22 thoughts on “Making sense with sunflowers

  1. Loved this post Pia. Thank you for putting into words what I have been feeling for a while. Sometimes the world makes no sense. I do hope you had a lovely birthday last week. xx

  2. Hi Pia, I love your writing, and I think you hsve so beautifully put together what a lot of us are feeling each moment. So much doesn't make sense, and I think counting your blessings just doesn't give enough solace anymore. Anyways, loved the phrase “eclipse of human nature”…and the receipe too.

  3. AD, I'm so happy it resonated with you – it was not a post I was sure of writing. I wanted to speak of hope, but without undermining the utter hopelessness people in some parts of the world must be feeling.

  4. Tandra – thank you – there I go writing my thoughts as aimlessly they come; and then sharing them here. What would they be without you, and others, to connect and respond to them? Yes, so much is senseless, but for the sake of sanity, and while I play silly, tickly games with my daughter, counting my blessings come naturally. xx

  5. So true and oops I meant to say counting my blessings ! I shuddered when that flight fell from the sky, as I flew with my two kiddos right over there just couple days earlier !

  6. Gratefulness makes up for the sorrows of the world. Sif we act like sunflowers, turning to the sun, rather that the shadows, the world gains all.from it. Buon compleanno, sunshine!

  7. Thanks Pia. Working in a newspaper, you are constantly exposed to depressing news. I will look at the flowers, I will.

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