Allan Johnston: ‘Poori and Lime Pickles’

Poori and Lime Pickles

Denver days: I walked the streets,
looking for work. I’d come down
from frozen Washington,
hoping to write, trying to survive.
I moved into the place
my sister left when
she went to Laramie
and Vet school. Had no job
or prospects. Worked one day
door-to-door flyer delivery,
then quit.

Soon I applied
at the Taj International
Indian restaurant, a few blocks
from the University of Denver.
I was hired to wash dishes.
Not long after I started getting
to know the action behind the scenes—
the Sikh woman who ran the business,
calculating all accounts
on fingers, her hand an abacus;
the fat Hindi owner
who had bought the land, and held
in awe the real estate agents
he called gurus at whose feet
he said he’d prostrate himself
were it acceptable in this country.
Somehow I became chef,
making masalas, curries, yakhni,
alu ghobi. All the recipes
called for spices measured by palm.
I made poori, puffed-up deep-fried
Indian bread, and would eat it
with lime pickles all the time.
The Sikh woman’s son
went to discos and would talk
endlessly about the heroics
of Sikh warriors, dying Sikhs,
soldiers spraying machine gun fire.
At the time I knew little
of that world, mainly knew
I needed to survive,
and pretended I was writing,
but instead got lost in a battered
copy of Madame Bovary
my sister had left. By then
I lived in the cellar
while two girls rented the flat.
Denver days: I’d roll out dough,
flatten it, dip the poori
in the fryer, watch it bubble
til it was golden, glistening smooth,
like the backlit image of
the Taj Mahal, that lovely grave,
winking away in the restaurant window.

Allan Johnston

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