Kitchen Refrains: In Memory of My Mother

In the loving memory of my dear mother Rama Bhattacharya on the auspicious occasion of her birthday today, February 26, 2015. A tribute to her unceremonious kitchen chores, her relentless housework and our long-distance phone calls, over which we have bonded over the course of all these years. Hope she is in ultimate bliss, wherever she is now, knowing that I have learnt all the recipes she has taught me. photo (43)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1)

The oil splutters, the glittering bodies
Of paanch phoron, cumin seeds and bay leaves
Emanate a moist, fragrant breath.
The gourd and the potatoes, dancing in the
Indolent pan, with crisp coconut,
The way you always wanted
Culinary things, in their rhythmic crescendo.

I have learnt and unlearnt a lot today,
Vacillating, flickering, in between
Recycled pots and pans, my stained fingers
Scratching in the dust, searching for
My girly mouth, stuffed with morsels and juices
Of your presence in steamed rice and runny fish curries.

I have learnt your recipes well, Ma,
Drawing in the dust a diagram of
All the meals that we had shared, talking to me
Through the long sent emails, the stings,
The scrapes, the missed steps of my childhood days.

(2)

I park my eyes in the mossy courtyard,
Your foamy fingers soaking in the detergent,
My dream, a broadened highway leading me
All the way to the creek, the dirt road, the clothesline
The terrace where our evenings hunkered,
Your domestic chores stretched across
The ribs, the hemlines, the loops and curls of the house.

My eyes have taken in the ice and fog
Of all our spoken words, the lines
Curved towards hope, while I chop onions,
Peel potatoes, slice tomatoes,
Rice boiling over, gasping over the smell
Of turmeric, a chained melody that bleeds
In a kitchen where our silences grow louder every day.

A kitchen where my childhood photo with you
Fresh, pulpy and sweet, hovers in cinnamon breath.
I hold you between the undone folds of your silk saris
The vermilion dots of your quiet, steadfast longings,
One morning till the next, let me burn until
Your ashes become glistening silver.

I move imperfect, your daughter,
In littered, crumbling surf and sands,
Hungering for your womb, for one last time.

Darkness, My Old Friend, Glad To Be One With Thee

BKP

Has skin color/tone/complexion ever been an impediment/obstruction in your journey to seek love and acceptance? As for me, I have always believed that beauty is skin-deep and appearance is only the gateway through which you enter a person’s mind and spirit. My personal essay/story in Morsels & Juices is a peek into three generations defined by darkness and unadulterated love, where I also speak of the typical Indian/Bengali ‘Shoshurbari’ (in-law’s place) and its discrimination based on skin color. This is a story which has been on my mind ever since I got married, and after almost a decade, I happily give voice to it.

Dedicated again, to the loving memory of my mother who had taught me to love myself unconditionally.

“I was born only a couple of days back and resting in her arms. My dusky mother planted a soft kiss on my forehead the day she first met my baby skin, brown, drooling, eager to be one with her. Her offspring breathed close to her, a far cry away from the plastic perfection of fairness that was everywhere around her. She looked at me, a pre-term baby in skin and bones, at my chiseled nose and pouted lips. “You are beautiful, my baby girl, and you are just what I had imagined you to be”, she whispered to me, while my tall, fair and handsome father roamed around us, held me sometimes, fragile and wailing.”

This is a little excerpt of the story where I have addressed the issue of being dark, beautiful and free in a color-obsessed patriarchal society where I have grown up. Do read the full story here and leave your valued comments, friends!

http://morselsandjuices.com/i-am-dark/darkness-my-old-friend-glad-to-be-one-with-thee/

 

A Woman I Am

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The woman, the mother and the daughter. Image source: http://www.stressreliefwizard.org

“Which of your roles you find central to your being ? Being a mom, or daughter, or teacher, or student, a professional or a homemaker, or anything else ? Write, and then write a poem too”.

This was a weekend writing prompt that one of my virtual friends, a poet/writer had initiated in an online writing forum in Facebook dedicated to women writers/poets and/or artists. Based on her beautiful weekend writing prompt, here is my humble attempt to define myself as the mother, the daughter. The umbilical cord, long severed physically, remains within us and reshapes our life, in ways more than one.

 

A Woman I am

(1)
The umbilical cord is bespattered
With blood, mucus and a chill of pain.
The child, first a foreign growth
And then, a mirror image of her own,
A wet, moving mass, is expelled
After spasms rushing out, gushing, in waves.
In laboring, birthing, in the pain
And bliss that returns,
The daughter becomes the mother,
The mother comes to the daughter in shared wound
At birth, both are united by a raw pain of separation.
A child with a descent line, sustained with
Her life-blood and love, fingers, nails, toes,
Eyes, ears, nose, lips, trailing after her.

                              (2)
A woman I am, the umbilical cord, the conjoined life
Of my mother and me, long dried up, severed
Yet a fire in my soul that illuminates my trails.
Walking barefoot, parched and reckless,
Swimming, moving, arms wide spread
In the lost tides of time,
The cord, long lost, pulls, tugs at my womanhood
In elemental wonder. The cord is the dance,
The merry-go-round and the preciousness of love
As I writhe in pain, longing.
I am gorging in smoke and flames
As the child is borne in beauty and pain.
I am the woman, the daughter and the mother
A little nursling, I squirm, thrash, snuffle
Am unbuttoned inside milky warmth.
A woman, a lustrous being, the miracle of birth
Latches onto my being, holds onto my seraphin wings.
A woman I am, the umbilical cord beckons me.

‘Tobu, Mone Rekho (And Still, Remember Me)’

 

My mother has passed over to another domain, the ever elusive domain of death, and the much talked about, yet unsettling, mysterious domain of the after-life nine months back. I flew back to India to see if I could at all save her fledgling life, lying in deep coma in a small, almost unknown hospital in the outskirts of Kolkata. All I could see after I reached in the wee hours of the night was her corpse lying over heaps of ice, waiting for me to see her for one last time before being cremated. This was a sudden, unexpected blow to me and I have written about the experience at length in my full-length memoir, after the closure had come to a full circle. I have been witnessing the event of death in my family ever since I was five years old, the austerity, the sudden cessation and the rituals that have been a part of it, but this event has actually been the dawning of an entirely new realization, a new epiphany for me. As much as I have written about my mother in poetry and prose following her sudden death, all of it has stemmed from the fact that she had been and will be a secret, silent anchor, plaguing me with the burden of grief and loss with her death, yet showering my path with light, meaning and bliss.

On that note, I would love to share a small homage to the loving memory of my mother on the International Mother’s day. Since all her life, she has been a keen devotee of the songs, poems and literary works of Rabindranath Tagore, since she has transferred this unquestioned devotion to me in my childhood, I had to come back to none other than the bard himself to reiterate my thoughts on what our relationship had been about, and how the memory of her love would keep me going for the rest of my life.

তবু মনে রেখো যদি দূরে যাই চলে।
যদি পুরাতন প্রেম ঢাকা পড়ে যায় নবপ্রেমজালে।
যদি থাকি কাছাকাছি,
দেখিতে না পাও ছায়ার মতন আছি না আছি–
তবু মনে রেখো।
যদি জল আসে আঁখিপাতে,
এক দিন যদি খেলা থেমে যায় মধুরাতে,
তবু মনে রেখো।
এক দিন যদি বাধা পড়ে কাজে শারদ প্রাতে– মনে রেখো।
যদি পড়িয়া মনে
ছলোছলো জল নাই দেখা দেয় নয়নকোণে–
তবু মনে রেখো। (The lyrics in original Bengali, courtesy: Geetabitan.com)

There have been several translations of this song that speaks of physical separation, the pain and the inevitability of death, and the spiritual proximity of love, the gift of memory and reminiscence that transcends the physical spheres. I have been inspired by all these translations, but was tempted to write down my own version, which goes like this:

And, still remember me, if I go far, far away, remember me.
Even if the trappings of a new love shroud old ties of love and attachment, remember me.
If I remain close, yet distant from you, lonely and unrecognizable,
Like a shadow, remember me; still, remember me.
If tears drench your eyelashes, remember me.
One day, if the journey of this life ends at the stroke of night, still remember me.
One day, if my absence interrupts your chores on an autumn morning, remember me.
If, recalling my memory, tears do not moist the corner of your eyes,
Still remember me.

‘Sneher folgudhara’ (coining your own expressions in Bengali), the never-ending cascade of love that will bind us, forever, even after the body turns to ashes, and returns to the earth after death. Love–Your daughter, Papai, who will always remain a daughter, carry your bloodline forward and pass on your legacy of words, thoughts and unconditional love to my daughters, irrespective of your physical absence.

My favorite rendition of the song by Kanika Bandyopadhyay:

The bard singing the song himself (a rare treasure):

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Rest in peace forever, my beloved Ma. Only know that the candle of your love will forever be lit in my heart, Amen!