Her cooking is the honeycomb
that keeps him succulent.
He is seated, King Kong, at the head of the table,
she is unseen, in the kitchen,
sweating in holy profusion, sanctified by
self-sacrificing labor,
the okra is fried to perfection, has been soaked
in tamarind juice, the sesame seeds pounded and ground
to a paste, poured exactly five minutes before the flame is turned off,
simmering, turned side to side, not too brittle,
supple, gleaming in grainy white coats,
she smugly concedes periphery jobs
to a daughter-in-law,
who is allowed to chop and measure out,
forbidden from the fine act of cooking in this goddess’s kitchen.

There is a hushed silence
in the sanctity of this evening ritual,
the primary steel plate for rice,
the quarter-sized plate for sides like papadamus,
chutneys and avakai and a second vegetable,
a katori for the sambar or kutu, or perugu,
into the meal, this plate might be a repository
for chewed drumsticks, avakai bone, tamarind,
the paraphernalia of supporting herbs
the flotsam and jetsam of ingestible food.

He eats, connoisseur of gastronomy,
she sends him sidelong glances ascertaining his judgement,
every scooped slurped bite is a religious act by a God,
he keeps his face impassive
careful not to spill out too marked an appreciation
keeping the possibility of pride in check,
doing her a favor multiplying her virtue.
She understands his face as a farmer knows his soil,
displeased, his face can turn dry and cracked as a drought-land,
as a linguist know phonemes and syllable—
a twitch, a blink, pause, measured stare
and silence are signs signifying things:
a refill of sambar without the vegetables/
a refill of sambar with the vegetables/
a refill of sambar with only the bottle gourd/
the need for raw onions/not enough salt/
he scrutinizes the rotis, tad over burnt, he says,
she is mortified; chastised she hurries to re-make one
more perfect round moon in this perfect harmony.

And I watched always exiled from this
soundless solemnity for a decade,
wondering, why,
I could not see the beauty of it.


Photo by Aarti Krishnan from Pexels