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Sumana Roy's - Poems



Gulab Jamuns. Image credit - 4.bp.blogspot.com




Chocolate

We called it ‘Cadbury’ and ‘toffee’ in Bengali, 
not knowing one from the other,
that it was only ‘chocolate’ that we wanted to eat;
not knowing the right word until we had grown up,
and they brought it to us,
to show their love,
and mark our unequal sweetness.

.
Walnut

Walnuts were rare
when we were young,
except when Pradhan uncle, 
Lieutenant Colonel,
sent them for his children 
from Kashmir.

It was not its taste we loved
but the labour at eating,
crushing them, amidst claps, 
at door hinges, and digging 
its dark war-scratched body 
out of landmine traps. 

I left home.
I got married.
Your walnut 
became my dome. 

I’d have never tasted walnut again
had you and your mother not ground it
for three nights and days
into walnut flour,
for your birthday cake.

I will not talk 
about its atavistic taste.
Only this – 
that the two walnut trees 
in your backyard
will now, never know rest.


Coleslaw

Some things taste the same everywhere – 
mother’s milk,
fingernails,
sweat,

and coleslaw
– though I’ve never had them in other places.

 

Hunger 

The self-indulgent steam floating over fat white rice,
The late taste of cumin caught between the last two teeth;

The wholesome belched taste of last meal’s indigestible ginger,
The flooding of the mouth at the smell of the neighbour’s oranges;

The moody driver and the noisy television in the bus,
My hunger 
And the dog’s barking.


When your father comes

When your father comes – 

He will pump air into your flat bicycle tyres,
He will break the walnuts he sent from Kashmir,
He will make the gourd shoot climb up to our tin roof,
He will scold Sharma for decreasing the quantity of rice from our ration,
He will ask me to cook jackfruit curry for him with garlic and ginger,

He will go and ask the government for early retirement;

If your father comes back from war.



Samosa

It reminded him of Tebhaga, 
he said, as he broke 
one ear of the samosa;
the second I had, with Coke.
The third ear,
the dough tweaked
into a fear,
we kept
for King Lear. 

I loved eating dirt in ears,
its lethargic secrets of 
potato, cauliflowers and,
with luck, a peanut for the dear. 

One for me, one for the love,
and one for the poor stranger – 
that’s how we always ate,
even dividing useless black 
papaya seeds on a white plate.

He was a Naxalite, someone said.

It was the last day of August – 
he came, without slippers, to me,
asking for nothing except a cup 
of sugarless black tea.

The water boiled
and then died,
I tried to hide
but he searched
urgently – 

he found it at last,
and then I couldn’t say,
after adolescence’s long fast,
that I had turned sour,
with waiting, 
like a neglected dough of flour.

“It’s like a samosa,” he said.
He had his share 
and, later, I mine.
The third we kept, 
as always,
for the stranger,
on a side plate.
I just prayed,
without conscience, 
that sharing a samosa 
would be easier 
than breaking bread. 


Onions

He wouldn’t let me cut onions,
That’s how he showed his love, he said.

But I, then young 
and full of the stretch marks of love,
would seek red onions out,
peel their scaly skin,
slice off their scanty-haired heads,
cut them in two, 
as if giving birth to a pair of shoes 
on Shakespeare’s second-best bed. 

I’d nurse their harshness
and cry as I cut them, 
with love, into strips.
“I am no witch!”
“All’s not for keeps!”

When he’d come back,
after the day’s burden of joy,
the spelling contests with success,
I’d surprise him – “Onion, my toy!” 

I was learning to cook
something a lover could eat,
on the way home.
Something in-between,
a gaze from a window seat,
while stopping, for breath,
before dinner with his wife,
a marriage on microwave heat. 

“Something else, please?”
Potatoes, Rice, Fish, Meat, 
his wife always cooked at home, 
“Something quick, to eat at half-ease?”

Only Onions she’d left 
for a girl like me,
I, a hawker, at home, 
selling holiday-food – 
“Milkmaid by the Sea!”

So onions every evening
until one day – “For Heaven’s sake, 
an onion is not Jesus Christ!’ he said.
Was it that bad, my onion cake?


Belch

Belch:
A taste without a memory;

You cannot remember
When you last belched,
Nor what taste
The belching brought 
to the back of your mouth,
Perhaps only this,
That you waited 
for the next one to come
And reiterate 
the exaggerated taste 
of garlic in the chicken curry,
To repeat (and add to the aftertaste),
While on your way back from a holiday,
What a terrible cook 
that beautiful woman was;

You waited,
With suppressed desperation,
For the second one to erupt, 
With a sound if need be,
To come,
Even with the hint of a curse
But it didn’t;

Belch:
A taste always failing expectations, the second time.


Aniseed

To come in the end,
Like the youngest unwed daughter,
And settle on us,

And remain there till all our juices flow

And we switch off the lights;

Aniseeds, the taste of over-deservingness.


Avocado

He didn’t believe that I had never seen an avocado in my life;
He laughed; He thought everyone in the world wore socks.
And shoes.

It reminded me of something I felt I or my family had known – 
A pear, a lemon, a dwarfish gourd, but again, not exactly that
– Something as familiar as a straight line, moulded into the number 1 in any language.

The Mexican wanted to cut it from the middle, through its stomach,
The South African wanted to cut it from the middle, through its head,

I didn’t want it to be cut.
I didn’t want to be surprised.


Eating

We like to talk about eating,
About the length of the rice grains,
The tenderness of the meat,
The smoothness of the sauce,
And occasionally, 
About the cost of baby food.

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