Imagine a mustard afternoon.
The kitchen, barefoot
on summer’s breath.
between Baba’s thick fingers
and you, beneath the
high-blue Bengal sky,
wait moist for—
gorom bhaat2, biulir daal 3, aloo posto.
It’s no gourmet trick in delight;
but a famished melody by ancient wives.
The slow hum of poppy seeds
grounded to a mellow warmth
by Kajer Mashi 4 on the sheel noda5—
she, dripping beads of clear water
on the wet stone, wafting fragrance
of love, sleep and war.
Cubed potatoes, sliced onions,
a tender sauna followed by
posto’s drowsy descent
into a pool of a pallid dream.
Its wood-bark aroma— a stoic ring
of lonely British sentries,
amid the rich blooms of ‘aphim’ fields6.
Their cruel resolve, rising
in the steely cry of the khunti7,
scraping sheets of posto-skin off the kodai8.
Ma serves it in a baati9.
A glazed, green chilly punctures the air
crisp with the nutty whiff
of onion seeds on posto’s soft, swollen belly.
This is what you came home for—
a distilled escape from the tandoors10, tarkas11,
the measured spoons
of corporate dining.
Posto is a farmer’s find,
unheard by apps and delivery boys.
A humble hunger
healed by potatoes
sans the familiar sprinkle of
jeera12, dhaniya13, haldi14 and laal mirch15.
- Aloo Posto: It is a lightly-spiced, traditional Bengali recipe of potatoes in a paste of poppy seeds. ‘Aloo’ means potato and ‘posto’ means poppy seeds in baangla language. There are different ways of making ‘Aloo Posto’ and the poem describes the one that I am familiar with in my family.
- Biulir daal: A thick soup/broth of boiled, ‘biuli,’ a lentil variety.
- Gorom bhaat: ‘Gorom’ refers to hot and ‘bhaat’ means rice (in Baangla).
- Kajer Mashi: A common way of addressing the female household help in Bengal (in Baangla).
- Sheel Noda: ‘Sheel’ is a flat stone mortar and ‘Noda’ is the stone pestle (in Baangla).
- ‘Aphim’: An allusion to ‘Opium’ farming by the British in Colonial India.
- Khunti: A steel spatula (in Baangla).
- Kodai: A bowl-shaped frying pan with two handles used in Indian cooking; a type of wok; (in Baangla).
- Baati: Bowl (in Baangla).
- Tandoors: Refers to the popular North-Indian style of cooking in a clay oven which has been adopted by the growing restaurant culture, such as Tandoori Chicken and Naan Bread.
- Tarka: A type of a seasoning food with spices heated in oil or ghee.
- Jeera: Cumin seeds
- Dhaniya: Coriander seeds
- Haldi: Turmeric
- Laal mirch (in Hindi): here it refers to Red chilli powder.
Jhilam Chattaraj is an academic and poet based in India. She has authored the books, Corporate Fiction: Popular Culture and the New Writers (2018) and the poetry collection ‘When Lovers Leave and Poetry Stays’ (2018). Her works have been published at Room, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Colorado Review, World Literature Today and Asian Cha among others. She received the CTI excellence award in “Literature and Soft Skills Development,” 2019 from the Council for Transforming India and the Department of Language and Culture, Government of Telangana, India.