Cooking for Friends

Hold your knife like a violin bow
a finger on the blade and
your thumb to guide,
move only your wrists
up and down, smoothly now!
Chop it into half and then
a half of a half,
the knife beats a tattoo on the bamboo board
as carrots turn into matchstick men,
they are the vanguard
they will fight the heat
at the bottom of it all.

No room is empty
when you put spices in ghee
a sliver of nutmeg, a roll of cinnamon
3 beads of cardamom
2 heads of clove
5 pearls of pepper
4 long leaves that aren’t really bay;
Give them a swirl and let them simmer
Their light is gentle
and the world grows soft
with a promise of peace.

Let them meet rice
that was soaked and now a little dry –
don’t listen to the press
it’s the small-grained kaima
that holds things better
than long-grained rice
from where they are never sure
how this dish is made.

Use your ladle,
let the spice kiss the rice
and put it to sleep;
Then add morning —
just enough water
to shake the rice awake,
then a squeeze of lemon
to make it dance;
a cut on that moonball
and there is not a minute
that won’t ring with yellow.

A heavy iron tawa, so tired of dosas,
goes on the flame at its lowest ebb,
let your pot rest on its slick black back;
I don’t know your taste
but when you cook,
bottoms must be heavy.
First, go the carrots,
they are swords as much as a shield —
if they burn no one cries,
if they turn caramel sweet,
they are the flags on top of peaks.

Please be gentle
with the meat on the carrots,
It is tired and drowsy
from a long night soaked
in curd and powders many
and then a bit of gravy
with ginger, garlic and chilly;
Let them all sleep.
Give them a blanket of scented rice,
soft boiled eggs white as pillows,
crown it with mint and sweet onion fries;
Pour them a drink of royal milk
gold with the might of saffron strands
mild as poems.

Every pot needs a solid lid,
this one needs my mortar and pestle
to keep it nice and quiet.
There’s not much to do now
but to sit and wait,
all things good must take their time
and your nose tells time
so much better than a clock ever will.

Let this all grow
like a flower in winter,
let the fire be slow
till all the meat is drunk
and the rice has bloomed.

Oh and while you wait —
crush the eggshells and
give them to your rose;
Lick your fingers
and the mound of your palm,
don’t let any little speck
feel left behind.

I close my eyes and wonder,
Is this how prayers begin?

Sunil Rajagopal’s amateur pursuit of writing and birding helps make sense of his full-time life.

Featured image: Pexels