Poetry: “This is How to Make Barah” by Ashley Somwaru

This is How to Make Barah

Scoop the mixture of split peas, water, your aunt’s eyelashes into your hands. Squelch the dough between the hole of your index finger and thumb. Let it fall into sizzling oil.

You are peeking over the shoulder of aunties as they show you once then imprint their fingers into your back as they push you forward. This is the only yellow shalwar you have, but their yellow feels more eye-catching than the sequins. It reminds you of the stale piss sitting in the latrine you ran out of this morning to get to jhandi house before anyone could shake their head at you. They shake their heads anyway.

Scoop. Squelch. Fall. Sizzle.

The first drop into the pot will burn. And the fourth. And the tenth. There’s an art for dangling your skin so close to what will scorch you and pulling back quickly enough so that when the beast hungry for flesh reaches out to take your offering, you’re already gone. Not that you know how to master that yet. Pretend you don’t hear the aunties sucking their teeth or see one sitting in the plastic chair covering her smile with an orhni.

Make sure they don’t get too brown. Scoop. Fall.

An uncle passes by. Smiles at you. Maybe for a bit too long, but you can’t tell, you’re too busy trying not to let the sweat rolling down your cheek become a secret ingredient to this mixture. You should’ve paid more attention.

Start. Scoop. Squelch. Fall. Sizzle. Stop.

Maybe this has nothing to do with you. It could have been that the aunties are losing their balance to stand, their hair is turning too gray now, or they just wish someone would smile at them as if what came out of their hands is the best part of the plate that will be fixed for the pandit when he arrives. Most likely, he will arrive very late, considering that the sun is already poking at your hunched back. It just takes an eye catch for it to start.

Sizzle. Don’t let the karahi get too hot.

You knocked about. You walked down the road alone. You went to the market and got two hassa for free. You dug up a child’s slipper from the trench and the father blushed. You can’t cook barah, but when you danced in your cousin’s backyard, the men made a circle around you and watched. You can sing like Lata if jealousy deafens the ears enough. You get ketch with Sham. You went to school with Indira and Katie, but no one remembers them. Only you. You. You. You. You laugh like you want the whole village to hear. You’ve never been to mandir. You like eating food that scalds your mouth, but never wince if the heat is scraping off your tastebuds. You unlight matches using your tongue. You were prancing around the field last week and Lilawattie said she saw a man fumbling behind you. You don’t listen to your elders. You were supposed to shine all your father’s shoes so that he could go to work, but you get away. You were nowhere to be found. You were everywhere. You’re the type my grandmother would say has gas pedals for feet. You were the girl that your cousins stopped sitting next to. You didn’t smile at the aunts who walked past you but then gossiped that they really didn’t see you or why do they have to kiss you when you’re the younger one? You should’ve said hi first. You were too late. You already have a bad name. You kicked off your shoes, climbed a tree, and they had to do a double take. You stuck your tongue out to catch the rain and the rain now only comes when you call for it.

Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Fall. Stop. Sizzle. Sizzle.

One of them will start. She will ask if they smell it. The smell of a woman who has been letting any man who looks her way ride her like the kiddie horse ride at carnivals that’s too corroded to move without giving half assed jooks. But another will have more glint in her eyes. The glint juggling between Rahu and Ketu. The glint you can’t see because the fire was outing, so you blew all that your lungs can offer into the pooknee. The fire startles. The ash puffs into your eyes. Get them out but don’t use tears.

Again. Again. Again. Scoop. Tighten your hold. Drip. Squelch. Burn.

You should’ve paid less attention.

Fall. Fall. Fall.

And because they are your aunties, you will have to let them ask you: eh gyal, yuh shower today? But that won’t be anything like the auntie who rips you away from the unmade barah and the karahi and tells you to get away from here. You whore. You unclean bitch ruining the prayer space.

STOP.

You have two options. You could cry and let them tease you. What are you crying for? You think these tears work on us? Your parents spoil you too much. You could let them laugh at how your forehead scrunches and chin twitches when you cry. Or you could turn it around on them. Say that no one told you this before you started. Say show me the scriptures where it says a woman can’t pray and make offerings while bleeding. Say if god can accept their wicked minds, god can accept your body. And let them call you rude, let them spit you out of the yard.

Let it all bundle into a styrofoam basket of ghee, paper towels, evaporation.

Pick both. Pick neither. Pick up a fluffy barah, break it apart and dip it into the mango chutney. Chew slowly. Double dip while looking into their eyes. Swallow the last bite. Then leave.

About Ashley Somwaru

Ashley Somwaru headshot

Ashley Somwaru is an Indo-Caribbean woman who was born and raised in Queens, New York. She received an MFA in poetry from CUNY Queens College. Somwaru has published a chapbook with Ghostbird Press in 2021 titled, “Urgent \\ Where The Mind Goes \\ Scattered.” Previous work has been published in Angime, KitheLammergeierNewtown Literary, Solstice Magazine, VIDA Review, and elsewhere.