Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry

Anju Makhija

Pickling Season

Every summer, we laze under the mango tree
discussing unpatented recipes. When raw mangoes
drop on our head, we pause
to appreciate nature's bounty.
Then on to peeling, chopping, salting,
boiling, spicing, bottling...

Will the sorcery work?

By year's end, we hope, when 
the pungent brine matures to its prime.
The zing depends on turmeric balancing the tamarind,
the chili complementing the amchur*,
and if the asafoetida poured in candle light
late one night works for pickles
as it seldom does for couples, apart
since the first pickling season.

The alchemy has rarely bewitched,
jaggery sours, vinegar sears the tongue.
To change the recipe we've tried
with old ladies' advice,
but nature moves inexorably,
and life proceeds predictably

beneath the mango tree.

*Amchur: mango powder 

A Farmer's Ghost

Behind the trunk of a mango tree you were seen
vigilantly guarding rice fields; later,

collecting dung, rounding up cows,
you munched dry rotis, beat your daughter-in-law.

A farmer never leaves his land, they said,
till rice is safe from man and beast.

When bins are full, rice mixed with dry neem,
he will leave. The old man is dead, not asleep.

That night, I read about witty Veetal,
short-tempered Zhoting, man-eating Hadals

and other Konkan spirits in The Times. Next night:
ghostbusting, to dispel tales spreading like flames

in the night. Dark face, still as a scarecrow,
leaning against a haystack, you were seen

by all but me. Disconcerted then, now I see the point:
dispelling superstitions city folk like;

but, to believe the imagined to be true
can be a way of life, a fact, a truth.