“Only one who’s been a widow
     six, seven years can hope to make
shukto like this.” Worried, he curls his toe:
     “Did I miss something, a mistake?”
“None,” she smiles, “I can detect:
the heat, bitter-sweet, all perfect.”

The ceiling fan stirs the humid air
     like a ladle in a curry.
“My grandfather would compare
     shukto to sitar.”—Don’t hurry!
Dusk; She’ll have to return:
“But tell me: where did you learn?”

She lives in a one-bedroom flat,
     a recluse, a magician,
sworn to silence, shy of combat,
     by her more-famous musician
husband.—“She taught you how to cook
shukto?”—“Yes, at first, she mistook

me for the servant.” (Pause. Laughter.)
     —“And you were there to interview
her?”—“Yes”—“You should be an actor,
     not a scribe.”—“Old tricks. You’ve no clue
what you’ll learn if you just keep quiet.”
—“Learn what?”—“About music and diet.”

My great-aunt lived for 13 years
     in Kashi: She covered her nose
while cooking, haunted by fears 
     of pollution, and would rarely disclose
her tricks. How did she accomplish
that ecstatic raga of mustard fish?

Notes

Only one who’s been a widow… / shukto like this: Shukto is a very sophisticated Bengali dish. According to some connoisseurs, only widows, disallowed from eating non-vegetarian food, can make this dish to perfection.

She lives in a one-bedroom flat: Inspired by Annapurna Devi, an accomplished surbahar player. She was the daughter of Alauddin Khan, sister of Ali Akbar Khan and first wife of Ravi Shankar. According to legend, she was way more talented than Ravi Shankar, who forced her into early retirement fearing that she would eclipse him. After her divorce in 1962, she moved to Mumbai, become a recluse and a teacher to famous musicians such as Hariprasad Chaurasia and Nikhil Banerjee.

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Uttaran Das Gupta was born in Calcutta, India, and read English at Jadavpur University. His poems and articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Reading Hour, Magnapoets, Raedleaf, Fulcrum, Open Road Review, The Sunflower Collective and Indian Literature, and have been translated into Bengali and Telugu. Also an amateur actor, he has written the award-nominated play, Murder and Create. He is a journalist with Business Standard, New Delhi, where he frequently reviews books and films. He will be attending the Sangam House Residency in January 2016.

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