Pastoral Poetry

Bengal gram / kala chana / Cicer arietinum / Chick pea ~harvested as a dry grain from fruit pods, Family: Fabaceae

Of the various pulses, Bengal gram [1]or kala chana as it is called in India is known for symbiosis through an interspecies collaboration with bacteria. Even under the most stressful drought like conditions, Cicer arietinum is able to grow, as it harbours symbiotic bacteria in root nodules that help fix nitrogen. To me though, it symbolizes, resilience. The mutualism of species that cooperate, helps the plant through a difficult time with as much give, as take. There is a vast amount of literature devoted to this chick pea in the culinary world. There exist countless recipes for what can be made out of its seeds and shoots, these include the ubiquitous ‘hummus’ or the less common (even in India and one of my favourite sweets), Mysore Pak. What endears it to me is that it’s a commonly grown legume and India alone accounts for over 60% of the world yield of this crop that has been cultivated since ancient times, over many millennia.

I prepare this legume in a variety of ways, whether in the use of its seed, flour or leafy shoots and yet, the need for the simplest basic, makes me circle back to sprouts each time, perhaps in an attempt to render it more Sattvic or calming to the body. I understand that unlike the blessed bovine, we ruminate only in the mind, so this chick pea could do with sprouting to aid digestibility, reduce it’s phytic acid [2] content so it may improve our chances at absorbing micronutrients through their increased bioavailability. The shoots though, may harbour calcium oxalate, the same as spinach.

Process ~ I washed and soaked the black gram in plain water for eight hours, drained and then wrapped in a cotton kitchen towel, tightly wound up around itself. This I kept moistened in a closed place for many hours until the sprouts were many inches long. These were stored in the refrigerator for a few days.
Sprouts after a day or two

Years ago, I visited homesteads in farming villages in the North of India and it has been a pleasant memory. They weren’t really a foreign or exotic experience but there were moments that wished to birth into a poem, the way the women appeared to me. ‘Chick pea’ is a poem about a woman in her element, within her rural home, enmeshed in her landscape, her animals, plants, daily responsibilities, her dreams, harbouring  desires we aren’t able to see in those that do not mirror our realities. She is different and yet she is the same.

I also wished the poem to reflect on the malnutrition of women in India, especially since they mostly depend on plants for their protein needs and micro nutrient  requirements. Of the five essential nutrition interventions for mothers in India, one includes improving the quantity and nutrient level of food consumed in the household and another involves preventing micronutrient deficiencies and anemia, as per this report [3] by UNICEF India, where a quarter of women of reproductive age are undernourished, with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5 kg/m2

Yet, in parts of the world with higher food security and the availability of highly fortified foods, I am not sure if we really know to process appropriately what we consume, if we devote requisite time or are mindful as we create, serve and consume meals. Food processing has always been of interest to me and our home is very partial to gastronomy. I have also included below, a recipe I created for a simple salad with nutty chick pea.

A prayerful symbiosis

The hinterlands in the faraway North ,
thatched homes plastered in the dung

of humped cows, a canvas of surprise.
A young woman swept away the debris

of seasonal dreams peeling off
the floor and walls alike.

Yet, happiness is in the patting
of dung cakes, for the Milch cow

is always happy. These she will use
to smoke the firewood stove as she pats

unleavened flat bread for sustenance.
Days grow in rustling up a new patchwork

of dreams, fecund as the loamy fields
coursing the arc of an overhead sun.

She will walk through the harvest,
now the soil a soft brown skin.

In a tepid romance of a moonlit night,
the black gram grew in ambition, in

fervent prayers of nitrogen. Cut down
a couple of nodes and buds diverge

to a residual pain in straw but
the Milch cow will ruminate over this.

Multiple stomachs to digest the last
of a sorrowful detritus. Little curlicues

of shoots make her wonder of her unborn
children as a fecund pastoral philosophy

hurtles her into the future. Roasted gram,
gram flour, sprouts and shoots and

will it be enough, this food of drought,
food for her, food for the Milch cow ...

Sprouted Chick Peas in water
Recipe for a nutty salad:     

Chop into fine cubes, a medley of crunchy vegetables; I would suggest a cucumber, tomato, spring onions or a sweet white onion, a lettuce head. Add cubes of a boiled potato.

Toast 1/4 of this mixture in sprouted black gram, in a wok drizzled in clarified butter or Ghee, with some cumin seeds. Add this mixture to the salad.

Create a dressing out of yogurt, sesame seed oil and extra virgin olive oil, the juice of lime or lemon, salt, cumin powder, a finely chopped green chilli pepper or half of a jalapeno or a tablespoon of Siracha. Mix well together and add to the salad.

Garnish with chopped coriander leaves (cilantro).

Know your Pulse:

Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. They grow in pods and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognizes 11 types of pulses: dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cow peas, pigeon peas, lentils, Bambara beans, vetches, lupins and pulses nes. Pulses are annual crops that yield between one and 12 grains or seeds. The term “pulses” is limited to crops harvested solely as dry grains, which differentiates them from other vegetable crops that are harvested while still green [4]

References:

[1] Crop information for Black Gram ~https://www.indiaagronet.com/indiaagronet/crop%20info/black_gram.htm retrieved 17/Apr/21

[2] Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains by
Raj Kishor Gupta, Shivraj Singh Gangoliya, and Nand Kumar Singh ~https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4325021/ retrieved 17/Apr/21

[3]~https://www.indiaagronet.com/indiaagronet/crop%20info/black_gram.htm

[4]~https://pulses.org/what-are-pulses

Surreal

The truth can sometimes appear as surreal as a ghost in the attic. This prose poem is loosely based on what happened in a village many decades ago on a hot summer day, with poetic license, but the kernel of which remains quite unchanged. Consider it an exorcism of stories that need to find their way to poems.

It always felt like black and white back then in the sepia  memories in photos, except in stories my mother told me about kaleidoscopic ices and green bottles of sodas with a marble in the neck. Roads snaked around the church in iron tinted blood and there were not many wheels raising dust. That summer day, everyone ruminated on the sultry weather, lounging on a grass mattress or a chair, in the deep recess of a cavernous room somewhere. 
My Beautiful, you walked like the sole flower of the tropics that lonely road where the wooden windows shut people in and the Suns fiery digits out. Your cotton dress sheathed around your hips, your soft breasts and everything glinted white in the sun, even the black cross perched on the grotto. They used to begin the stations of the cross there for the march up to the chapel on the hill. It's strange that prayers never linger long near open spaces or in closed hearts. There were three of them that day the sun blotted out the landscape. Drunk on the fervour of youth, the dregs of local ferment, hallucinating of angels in a sacred space and you appeared. People noted in retrospect that you were very pretty as prima facie evidence.
You may have tarried a while for you knew them. Everyone knew everyone in the village and their dead ancestors. Perhaps they catcalled or slunk in a phrase that clamped lead on your feet, sunk to a pit in your stomach and sweated your palms. Did the banter get too risqué ? Your dress was hemmed to the length of the times. Your hair coiffed that way too. Did you smile? Or they were only drunk on desire, the echoes of prayers that weren't truly there and you answered in kind. 
A strange place for the carnal, up the steps to the grotto, all around roads, large houses, closed wooden doors, your screams muffled in the sun, the refectory window around the bend, behind where they kept the hearse, even the padre could not hear you in the fugue of his siesta but the gate to the cemetery further up was in full view and it anticipated your arrival in an afternoon conviction of faith. After they had their way, what did you say to warrant a passage of soul, was it the shock of the known or was it the shame of the village marvelling at your naked brown body up the many steps to a white grotto? 

Your lifeless body lay limp and faithless in fellowmen, for voices would be silenced soon, for only God was your witness and they hadn't thought to call Him to the witness stand. No one knew who raped you, for those youth provoked fear and that drives souls to silence. Perhaps it was penitence, for one met death on the way to a suicide. Another was pulled in by lotus stems in a lake to murky depths. A third lives but in the end everyone dies. 

Edit: I used the term ‘Grotto’ because no special term exists for the huge cross placed near a church, atop a whitewashed sculpted dome, a common sight in Goan villages. There’s no specific word in my native language either. A real ‘Grotto’ dedicated to Mary also exists around many churches and looks quite similar.

The moon hid in a crescent and my mother is a star

Adolescence meant making a beeline for the Linda Goodman treatise on Star signs, in an attempt to define one’s proclivities. It was always a source of amusement. I spent a good many minutes of my walk this evening tuning in to a wonderful podcast that spoke about Simone de beauvoir’s “Second Sex” and the way she came about the idea of how women construct or define their gender and femininity. I wonder if the weekly star forecast and books on sun signs would have ever figured as part of this. Some people like attributing their traits to a sun sign much like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire and other such characterizations that are in popular use. The event of ones birth, places a person at a distinct point in the map of the constellations. It is the study of the stars really and I thought I would write a poem today about astrology, the sun and moon signs as a fun exercise.

Mother, I looked for your moon in the blue print of your birth. Which Lunar mansion was it hid within, there are 27 of them and this evening, I saw the moon wax Gibbous, almost full and wondered if it shone on the moving trains and the salty ocean, the time you graced the Earth. Was it behind a cloud or drenched in the Sun. Did my grandmother see it through a tangle of branches as she laboured to spill you out.  I looked for your Sun too, in the bright algorithm. It tried hard to pixellate you between the seasonal and the starry. It also had a Jungian analysis of your artistic aptitude and a freudian for your stoic strength. I love your fieriness, you know the times I have had my fingertips burnt in it's scalding flames. Your leonine regality, your self respect and yet your rootedness to hearth and home is so Cancerian. The Sun bounced between those months on your natal chart. It couldn't quite place itself in any cosmos for the  Gregorian calendar waxed a different sun from the lunar one. Then the astronomers trundled in and solemnly spoke of the Earth's wobble, they scraped  a few minutes here and a few minutes there; the hour looked much leaner now. Time is relative I know but it vacillated between your moodiness and self regard . So one time you looked like Cancer and another time appeared a Lion. And the term Lion gave me a heartache, such sexism even in the constellations. They needed the Libra scales of justice but I know not of many feminists that are born Libran who may draw up a new criterion for law school or a new zodiac.  I decided, I love you just the same because you are my mother. Any flavour you come in, you are born under a star, a star to me and a star you will always be. 

My Mother’s personality always keeps me guessing what her real sign should be. I know what her moon sign is but they are two different signs per two different systems. The map sets her star right; it’s the characteristics attributed to each sign that invariably get her wrong 🙂 (written on a walk one recent evening, fun exercise pondering astrology)