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
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.
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.