Momos For Dinner by Bibhusha Rai




Momos For Dinner


Morning is greeted by

the winter sun and

aju momo khane la.(Lets eat momos today)

The squashes stand ready

prickly and green,

a huge steel bowl holds minced pork.

Papa is already at the onions

purplish-pink bringing tears to one’s eyes.

He puts them in the grinder,

s-l-o-w-l-y pulls the string.


A constant tug of war,

Papa tells me patience.

I remember the day

I decided to mince the onions myself:

s-t-u-c-k string, still blades

shaky hands, c-o-l-d breath.

My family often prides themselves for the old p-r-e-s-e-r-v-a-t-i-o-n.

My c-o-n-s-u-m-e-r-i-s-m

tells them I need a new phone.

Papa brandishes his seven-year-old phone saying see still good,

taking care goes a long way.

I finally manage to get the blades whirring, sliced onions always bring tears.

Ama is cutting squashes,

I have yet to learn.

The older the pricklier,

my fingers fail to grasp them.

They look at me and say in unison.

“Do not be weak and delicate,

be strong and tough,

let nothing get to you.”

Even when the s-k-i-n on your palm

is seared by the heat of the moktu,

hold it with bare hands.


I look at their hands;

as I grow, I forget

they are getting older.

Papa’s hands hold knotted fingers,

he tells me to not crack my knuckles

I spread his information.

Spots are spreading on Ama’s hands,

I see new lines running across her palms

as if life is carried by them.

They say sit down,

learn how to mix the masala:

O-n-i-o-n-s pink-red

lots of them,

Minced g-i-n-g-e-r

squeeze the juice not a lot

or it will turn bitter,

S-a-l-t not much

better bland then unsavoury salty.

Hu-Ching powder

just a pinch,

tastemaker or m-a-g-i-c,

momos holding it always take me home.

My parents pooh-pah at gloves

bare hands they say,

mix it between your fingers,

feel the texture.

Eating with bare hands,

your fingers holding and shaping

each morsel put into you

makes it more delicious.

Ama and Papa put a bit of raw keema

in their mouths to taste ,

then spit it out.

Tasting the mixture is something

I have yet to do,

t-o-l-e-r-a-n-c-e they say

you lose something to gain something.

The soup is boiling

Papa dices the vegetables small,

Ama cuts big pieces,

mine are medium, big, small.

Steam rises,

clear soup holds:

green, orange, brown, white.

Now the moment I await,

pleating momos.

Perfectly kneaded dough

by Ama waits,

with forks we place the filling,

tuck in the dough and pleat.

I hurriedly make one

seeking parents approval

but I have misjudged

too much filling,

too much good can be bad too.


The skin tears apart,

my palm holds s-h-r-e-d-s.

I expect a shower of criticism

but they say slow-down,

steadily I pleat a perfect momo.

They smile,

Ama says I learned quite late from your father. Momos was introduced in Papa’s family by him, the recipe was passed down from his hostel warden. Sir has long passed Papa says,

but I will never forget his cooking.

The first moktu owned by Ama’s family

was bought from her sister’s first salary.


I place the momos

round and round in the moktu,

l-a-y-e-r by l-a-y-e-r.

Arrangement is something I love,

soon 3 layers are done.

Now time to steam!

What’s the time? is said in unison.

20 minutes for vegetable,

25 for meat.

Now we w-a-i-t.

Day has ended,

dark winter night smattered in stars,

Ama and Papa converse

I tap my feet, i-m-p-a-t-i-e-n-t.



Done!

The soup bowls are filled,

plates set with 8 apiece.

I put 11 in mine,

11 plus 11 is twenty-two,

I like eating in palindromes.

Ama, Papa and I huddled

around the kitchen table on muras

balancing plates on our laps,

bursting with unspoken j-o-y.

Achaar often red

also brown and green is poured on plates,

a-m-b-r-o-s-i-a embodying

tanginess, salt

and spice of cherry red dallaes.

As I bite into a momo

it bursts,

flavours enveloping me,

I say d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s!

These little packages hold much more,

a family’s lessons and

unspoken love.



About the poem:

I returned home in 2019 suddenly, in the midst of the pandemic. The world was steeped in chaos, and like most of us, felt everything had come to a standstill. The lockdown changed my perspective of seeing, allowing me to write more. I feel this time also made us aware of our relationships with everyone in our lives and around us, more time spent with my parents lead to this poem. In the process of cooking momos with them, I learned more about them and maybe they did in turn. This poem is about a homecoming for me, and hopefully will mean something to others.


About the poet:

Bibhusha Rai hails from Gorabari, a village in Darjeeling. She is a MA English graduate from Delhi University, currently working as a researcher for the Confluence Collective based in Kalimpong, West Bengal. She adores art in all forms and considers herself a hotchpotch. She also loves to read, write poetry and paint. You can follow her on Instagram @bibhusha_rai



 

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