- When I sweep the kitchen floor at night
I hear you telling me not to
sweep at night.
“It will bring bad luck,” you would say.
Now every time I walk under a tree
or pick a flower
or step on grass
I hear you telling me not to.
“The trees are sleeping,” you used to explain.
“Don’t wake them, they too sleep at night.”
What an extraordinary respect you had for night.
- Having cold home-made yogurt
spooned on every meal,
was religion in your kitchen.
Every night you created creamy, silky, satiny yogurt
in dollar store glass jars
or used jam jars
or old Ragu spaghetti sauce jars.
You boiled the milk,
just until it bubbled and almost foamed over.
Then, a slight of hand,
and you switched the knob to ‘off.’
The milk obeyed,
receding to the pan,
melting back into itself.
I watched longingly as you
cooled the milk by pouring it between two pots
in long, white, graceful waterfalls.
From the pan into the yogurt jar,
then back into the pan
the waterfalls got higher and higher,
and you never spilled a drop.
- I’ve eaten through
jars and jars of
rounder than round
plumper than plump
buttery, flaky, crumbly, nutty pinnis
I’ve eaten them after swim practice,
sometimes while I cried.
Often while I cried.
My response to seeing you cry was to also cry,
clutching a pinni in one hand
and Moti’s furry tail in another.
Sometimes my hair,
(that you always wanted me to brush but I hated brushing)
would get caught in my mouth,
yet I would still eat every crumb and morsel.
I’d steal sips of your milky chai
but wouldn’t share my pinni, larger than your palm.
The day you chose to make jarfuls of pinnis
-our version of the cookie jar-
marked our winter solstice celebration.
You’d begin by melting butter and roasting whole wheat flour in that butter.
Shifting it with a spatula,
sands basking in the sun on a buttery desert,
you’d stop to sniff the aroma of roasting grains.
I call that fragrance your love.
While you waited for the flour to cool,
you’d roast the nuts separately.
The water-soaked and peeled almonds,
the dried, unsweetened coconut and
sometimes, if we were lucky, full and luscious cashews.
I always hated the golden raisins you insisted on adding.
You made perfectly round pinni balls with both of your small hands.
I recall them tumbling into fat glass jars,
One after another
Drop by drop by drop.
- When I wasn’t woken in the morning
by the sound of you fighting with my grandmother
or in a heated discussion on the phone with your sisters,
your dhuns, prayers, bhajans
-the musical manifestation of the part of you that joined you in the States-
would nudge me awake.
I don’t have vivid memories of those years,
but I remember those bhajans.
The high volume annoyed me.
There were ones you played every Monday morning for Shiva;
every Tuesday for Hanuman;
and the ones you played every day for Durga.
We heard the voice of your guru every full moon
when you played a VHS cassette of him preaching during a ceremonial prayer,
with your altar awkwardly propped on top of that huge 1980’s box TV.
Your tape player would sometimes eat
one of your precious tapes of religious hymns-
those tapes you bought in the 90’s in Delhi’s newest underground shopping plaza, Palika Bazaar,
and carried back with much care.
Those tapes were irreplaceable
so you did what you could
to salvage your devotion and that piece of you that came alive every morning.
You lay on the living room carpet
on your stomach,
resting on your elbows
your nightgown ballooning around you,
and unscrewed the four corners of the tape cover.
Once you found where the tape was torn,
you would cut off only as much as you needed to,
and Elmer glue the rolls of tape back together.
You were performing surgery, I knew.
Then you giggled with accomplishment as you screwed the tape cover back together.
In the mornings after that, when you played those doctored tapes,
the tapes would skip a word, a sentence, a whole minute,
right at the place where you had glued it back together.
And then, once past that broken point, hum blissfully
into the rest of the song
and the beginning of my morning.