Mattar paneer

By | 13 May 2024

That year of budget travel
I was always hungry and grew thin.
In Rishikesh you caught a bad cold
and stayed in bed in the concrete hotel
while I would walk once a day
to the restaurant on the jeep turning-circle,
order mattar paneer for 20 rupees, and sit
spooning up the peas, the lumps
of cheese in the rich spicy sauce
while the jeeps backed and belched
diesel fumes into the dim green room.
That was my favourite meal in India.
Just along the road was the ashram where
the Beatles sat at the feet of the Maharishi,
now abandoned, overgrown.
As you grew better we’d go for coffee,
pastry at the German bakery, nestled
on the shoulder of the suspension bridge,
the river beneath running high, cafe au lait
with spring meltwater and glacial dust.
One day we risked it, climbed down the bank
and holding the chain, immersed ourselves:
you to the neck, but I ducked
all the way under, in that icy water,
laced with sewage from the mountain villages.
Worth it to be cleansed, wholly, of my sins.

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