Sunday Lunch


Poetry by Susmita Bhattacharya

 

It must begin with bitter gourd.

Deep-fried discs of acrid crunch to

cleanse your palate of the week’s insipid fare.

Mash steaming hot rice with your fingers,

mould into neat balls, glistening with invitation.

This is the proper way to begin

Sunday lunch.

 

Move on to slow-cooked dal,

swirling in turmeric. Warm cumin vapours.

A ghee-glazed bowl of molten comfort.

Sprinkle rock salt on fried potato chips.

A spoonful of mango pickle

from the tree in your mother’s garden,

under which you stole

your very first kiss.

 

Follow this with fish curry – not just any fish

but the kind that swim in green-skinned rivers

littered with marigold garlands, spent clay lamps

and prayers for the dead.

If lucky,

your tongue will remember

the taste of that river, the bite of that flesh,

the sting of the smoking hot mustard oil.

 

Next, drop a spoonful of tomato chutney

studded with pinpricks of nigella seeds

onto your mother’s stainless-steel dish

brought back from

your last visit home.

 

And you must, absolutely must

wipe clean every drop of that

chutney or a missed morsel of rice.

Suck on your fingers – one by one. Absorb the food,

the past, the spirits. The dish should reflect your

contented smile on its mirrored surface.

 

Finally lie back and reflect on the meal.

Sear it into your brain. So you can release its warmth

bit by bit, through a week full of cold sandwiches,

Ryvita and cheese, ready salted crisps,

until Sunday offers up its lingering hours again.

And you begin once more – stirring your memories, your history,

your dreams back to life.


Susmita Bhattacharya is an award-winning author and creative writing tutor. Her debut novel, The Normal State of Mind (Parthian, 2015, BEE Books, India 2016) was long-listed for the Word to Screen Prize at the Mumbai Film Festival, 2018. Her short story collection, Table Manners (Dahlia Books, 2018), won the Saboteur Awards Best Short Story Collection prize. She teaches creative writing at Winchester University and facilitates the Mayflower Young Writers programme in Southampton.