Thursday, August 30, 2007

A vegetable story [flash fiction]

‘You have no insides. We need people of substance.’ This startled poor potato. She had come all the way from Dehradun in gunny bags and through dirty vegetable vendor hands not to hear this. Certainly not. ‘What do you mean’? She said asserting herself, making a mental count of all the pockmarks on her face. For she thought that was the problem. Ugliness. She looked around before facing the glistening Brinjal, purple and pure in the reflection of tube light, peering at persistent pea pod and happy apple and the lazing, oblivious green ladyfinger.

What do you mean? She said again, clearing her parched, starched throat. Sniggered, Brinjal “Oaf, you are opaque and we have no tolerance for people with no substance. Look at you. Inside out you are the same. Where in the world is ‘substance’ these days? Is it the stuff of dreams?

Pensive potato thought long and hard. Her story was long. To be dug from the grounds and collected in hoards of potato pile, to have the daylights stifled out of you in musky gunny bags, to travel head-bobbing for hours, to reach damp wooden carts, to be caressed and felt up by dirty hands, to be bargained for and weighed on the other side with filthy dark iron bars, was that a story of no substance? Was it of no substance to sit outside the fridge while other people got a cool chance to spread their wires and threads inside? Sitting on trays under proud, pungent onions who threw their flakes around and stinging garlics who pierced them with their every look?

The last rung of the stack was for her and her kin and she said not a word, made no bones about it. So she had no story or that wasn’t a story enough? What about from where she came – Peru, Bolivia, Andes?

Were they not the food of Spanish sailors or Jews in hiding or the only recourse during the Great Irish famine?

She retraced. Yes, indeed she was full of starch and no seeds but that was her substance that it bound and flavored other people’s lives, without acting corny, starchy or preachy.

She sighed and waited for the potato peeler to bald her in residues of thick brown curling tails. She was getting ready for the lamb mince and would be asked to jump into the simmering pot just when the time was right, when the mince had almost cooked, when the spices were ripe, when the cardamom had bloated to its fullest ego and the cinnamon had turned a dark trite. When the turmeric had spread its territory and water had merged and changed its color, she was asked to jump. Give herself up and all that she stood for and thought of: from where she came, what she belonged to, the perilous journey, the smell of the sea … just give up and jump. Make the cooking a success.She sat sullied in places, sprinkled. She allowed the culture of the pot to enter her pores and tendered with every heated blow till she melted into it.

The Brinjal and glistening tomatoes carried on their journey in another vessel which settled by poor potato vessels on the dining table but they weren’t ready to look her way. Poor potato had to remind herself ‘that she was not alone’. In any misery, there were always others just like in every party’. This pearl of wisdom she heard from the old mother of the dirty vegetable vendor. She scanned her knowledge to note of the others who had no seeds in them, no substance. But she couldn’t think of any and her time was up. A huge spoon was lightly stirring the mince and it scooped to load itself with mince and her in it, in one fast swing.

All have seeds she cried as she thought, landing on the side of the big man’s plate. ‘alright, let me think of one good thing before I die’ I don’t want to die sad, unaccomplished and substance-less and just then she remembered – a heart rending message that came to her from the depths of her soul ‘if I have no seeds, I will have no worms’. She entered the man’s mouth and hit against the side of his fleshy soft mouth and ground against the harshness of his teeth but without the crumble of heart. This realization became her substance then. It was only later when her soul resurrected was she told that with or without the epiphany she should have known she was not substance-less. Everything has its place over or under ground. ‘you should have never believed them in the first place’. ‘But because you did you had to be sent a second message of hope and relief’.

Encouraged now, she cares to meet us with smiles amidst her pockmarks and stubbly green pimples at every grocers’ store. She is inexpensive and easily available and can be snacked: fried, mashed or stuffed. She will be around for the next famine, draught, and war and if you are in hiding from those vicious Nazis don’t forget that she can abide to different recipes, even a soup maybe.

(c) Rochelle Potkar

Dream catchers (verse)

Moon beams sweep the sky
Of ochre light
Red earth
White virgin sand
Green leaves
ambushed with dragonflies

A bristle of rain
A boy creeps up like dusk fear
Eyes blooming like fire flies
Hands; clammy and warm
pinches the long tail of one

White rainbow feathers
Brush against bone
The animal curls up and burns
teeth into skin

like an angry dream

the boy allows it to fly

moon beams ride across the night

…yet another dream…

(c) Rochelle Potkar

My God has come [verse]

My God has come
to ask a favor

Return some peace

I give it
What is not for me
is not mine

A crumbling heart

A sliver of light

(c) Rochelle Potkar