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Some of them want to confuse you/some of them want to be confused … might be a line from the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams, only that’s not the case. These lyrics are, more likely, from the soundtrack to my life.

I am challenged on many fronts and one of those is in the area known as ‘directionality’. Unless I’m actually looking at the early-ascending sun, I have little concept of where east is. So, when someone says, ‘Drive east for about five minutes and you’ll arrive at the Great Western Highway, then head north for three kilometres and you should see the cricket ground,’ the instructions might as well be in Greek.

In my younger days when I felt it made me look a bit of a fool to ask, ‘Which way is east, really?’ I have pretended, or fooled myself at least into thinking I could check out the sun’s position in the firmament and intuitively pick a direction that ought to be east.

Of course, using this approach I gave myself a mere 25 per cent chance of success, and with 75 per cent of the odds stacked against me, I often arrived at ‘east’ the long way round, after first going west, then north, then south and finally finding the right cardinal by accident.

This was one of my early experiences in Sydney nearly two decades ago. I was desperate to locate the nearest Indian shop. As a true Indian-born, I was used to being proximate with spices and wished that not to change with migration.

Twenty years ago, Indian shops, as they are called, were a rarer sight than they are these days, with multiculturalism flourishing. One drove miles for an exhilarating sniff of cumin, cardamom et al.

‘You actually went west first,’ my mate Barney reminds me all these years later. We are, as usual, seated at the local cafe sipping coffee, enjoying the humble trappings of retired life — which, apart from the coffee, include the occasional look over the shoulder and a trip down memory lane.

Swooping magpies

Barney is reminding me of how we first met. He was just about to get into his car when he espied me, a stranger, walking hurriedly, weighed down by two heavy bags. I’d just got off the bus and was being chased down the street by two swooping magpies. (Magpies can be protective of their territory especially when their young have hatched.) It’s something you learn (about magpies) early on arrival in Australia. Barney said hi and drove me the short distance home to safety.

I lived on the adjacent street back then. That was when I asked him if there was an Indian shop around, and he said, ‘Go east …’ etc. We have, since that time, despite my having relocated, visited the same Indian shop hundreds of times.

Barney, who hadn’t much of a palate for Indian cuisine now loves it. But try as hard as he might, he will still mistake kala jeera (black cumin) for mustard, and cumin powder for garam masala, unless it is clearly labelled. And it is in this way that we have our similarities: each battling their own confusions.

He thinks I oughtn’t to have the slightest problem when someone says, ‘drive east’, while I believe that after 20 years, surely it shouldn’t be that confusing to tell the difference between two spices? We have a jolly good laugh at our unique frailties and Barney says, ‘Next time you come over we’ll drink to that over cups of cardamom-flavoured tea.’

Even as I’m secretly wondering and hoping that Barney has the right flavour in mind, he instructs me with a smile, ‘You know the way to my place, of course … east first for six kilometres, then north for another three ...’

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.