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Volume 15

Fables and Folklore - Fall 2015


Written by
Rakhshan Rizwan

Rakhshan Rizwan was born in Lahore, Pakistan and then moved to Germany where she studied Literature and New Media. She completed her M.A in British, American and Postcolonial Studies from the University of Münster and is currently a PhD candidate at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Her poems have appeared in Papercuts, Cerebration, Muse India, The Missing Slate, Postcolonial Text and elsewhere.


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The Son And The Salt-eater


This poem is a creative re-telling of a conversation (real or fictional we may never know) between the incarcerated Shah Jehan and his son, Aurangzeb, who had just ascended the throne after defeating his biological brother and preferred heir, Dara Shikoh, in a bloody war of succession According to legend, Shah Jehan was issued a curious punishment by his son: he could only consume one type of food every day, for the rest of his life. The king chose chickpeas – or cholay, as we refer to them in the vernacular. In order to mitigate the harshness of Aurganzeb’s culinary decree, the royal chef added different spices, vegetables and condiments to the chickpeas – to make them easier on the king’s palate – creating novel dishes such as cholay batura, aloo cholay etc. in the process. Although, these chickpea-based dishes are familiar to most South Asians, the particular history of an imprisoned king and his empathetic cook to which these dishes apparently trace their origins, is probably not.

The Son and the Salt-eater

The King

He moves like a king now with a slowness,
a grace, he moves his rosary beads,
Between his lean fingers—the guards
stand aside as he enters, his familiar perfume
invades the pores of my skin— child of my heart,
But I desist—betrayal has a strange aroma—
His fingers reek of ittar—we stand apart-
Men in the tableau of life— “The wheel is come full circle;
I am here”, My eyes
lift to the window, She is my witness,
The white Taj, the resplendent one,
She shines like a gilded swan against an impeccable blue sky—
She is my tormentor,
She is my dreams, the Taj hurts my eyes,
Why did you bequeath me this one?
I wanted to bury you, to bury your loss— but
He moves his mouth, your mouth,
He moves his jaw, your voice,
“You may have one thing to do
And one thing to eat.”
“Chickpeas, to eat” my voice
“and a son to educate.” My voice—
Now his cheek colours — your skin
Now his eyes flash— your anger—
He retreats like a king, without flourish and pageantry,
He leaves a familiar perfume in my cell,
He leaves the rustle of royal robes,
He leaves his decree.


The Father

Chickpeas everyday: round, beads
Of chickpeas, on which my mouth
Does dhikr, round rosary beads
Of chickpeas, on which my
mouth unlearns the language
Of a king, round heads of chickpeas,
On which I remember,
My decapitated sons,
Chickpeas, to lose the mind—
Chickpeas, to forget a wife,
Chickpeas to unlearn the weight of a crown,
The softness of a feather bed,
The heaviness of a mantle,
The pressure of a ring,
The fine stitches of a Persian tapestry,
The postures of paisley,
The warmth of a horse’s back,
The hush of a silent diwan,
The velvet folds of a gao takya,
The silk of a painted shoe,
the movement of a thousand delicate feet,
in the zanana,

on round rosary beads of chickpeas,
I forget the language of a king.
The mannerism of a king,
The memories of a king.


The Chef

Sacrilege sacrilege, the people on the streets whisper—
Royal blood is lying in the streets,
There will be reckoning,
There will be reckoning for this mischief,

But in the royal kitchen, we
work quietly, keeping the vulgar
Voices of the commoners at bay—
We do not allow gossip to mingle with gravy,
For rumour to sour the raita,
For intrigue to scald the idli,
For war, to spoil the wazwaan,


This new king, likes to mix
His politics, with his pulao,
His decree
Extends to the dastarkhuwan,

I do not like disobedient sons,
Nafarman baitay
Cause me to forget my naans
In the tandoor,
But still, I soak chickpeas in a pot of boiling water
As per orders,

But, I have eaten the king’s namak for forty years—
With each grain of salt, he has nourished in me,
Loyalty, Ties of namak unlike ties of blood
are not easily spurned,

Even the Jews pleaded with their Lord for onions-
They wanted piyaz instead of

Lend us your aromas, loyal sub-zee,
Tamarind, your tangy aftertaste,
Yoghurt, your cloying texture,
Potato, your amiable nature—
Flour, your many avatars,
Turmeric, your festivities,
Coriander, your restraint,

The new king, knows about conquering lands
 but nothing about cumin,
He exhibits shades of insolence, but cannot differentiate
Between shades of imli,

Piyaz with its delicate edges will serenade him,
Batura will melt in his mouth,
Puri will purr in his hands, softer than silk,
Pickles will lie in his plate in postures of

I will christen these dishes
with honourable names—
Cholay baturay, naan cholay, aloo cholay, chikkar cholay,
Papri chaat, chana chaat,
To make my master remember the tastes
Of his kingdom, the textures, the varieties of his kingdom,
the breadth, the colours of his kingdom,
and the devotion of a man he never knew.
The salt-eater.




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