top of page

Sweet Malida

Zilka Joseph

Mayapple Press, 2024

REVIEWED BY SHYAMASRI MAJI*

Zilka Joseph, an Indian American poet currently living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, explores food, religion, and the history of Bene Israel Indian Jews in "Sweet Malida." The volume, consisting of nineteen pieces in prose and poetry, is dedicated to her ancestors, parents, and the eminent Indian English poet Nissim Ezekiel who, like Joseph, hails from the Bene Israel Indian Jewish community.

The dedication reveals an urge to associate lineage with legacy. The subtitle of the book establishes the work as a memory project, wherein the memory of culinary practices is used as a tangible means to document and preserve the history of Indian Jews from the perspective of a woman member of the community.

 

The title poem, “Sweet Malida,” presents the recipe of a sweet concoction prepared with local ingredients such as water-softened flattened rice, sugar, dried fruits, and nuts. The Bene Israel people in India break their weekly Sabbath fast (from Friday evening to Saturday evening) with this dish. ‘Sweet malida,’ which gives cultural distinctiveness to this Indian Jewish group, also presents an inter-community rapport since a similar concoction is often offered as prasad in Hindu pujas.

Poems such as “Eliyahoo Hanabi,” “Choral Sonnet,” and “Man hu? Man Hu?” draw from scriptures, folklore, and lived experiences to historicize their evolution in the Indian subcontinent. “Choral Sonnet” narrates, in brief, the story of their transition from shanwar telis (Saturday Oil pressers) to Bene Israel Jews. Here, Joseph refers to a community fable in which David Rahabi (1694-1772), a reviver of Judaism in India, tested their culinary practices. On observing that the women of shanwar telis, while cooking fish, followed the kosher norms, customary cleaning ritual, he confirmed their Jewish ancestry.

In addition to collective memory, Joseph employs personal memory as well to emphasize the sincerity of Bene Israel women in preserving the community’s culinary heritage. In “Laadu Makers,” a prose poem, she describes how her grandmother checked on her mother when the latter made besan laadus. It ends with Joseph’s confession: “I, laadu eater, bow humbly to the ones who made me who I am, who sacrificed and never asked for thanks, and whom I never celebrated enough. And I ask for forgiveness, for all those things, but most of all for not writing down their recipes, their magic words” (54).

 

Her guilt is marked by a sense of loss. Decked with olfactory images whetting nostalgia and appetite, this volume is a unique effort to assuage the guilt and retrieve the loss through creative interaction between history and memory.

 

 

*Shyamasri Maji teaches English at Durgapur Women’s College (affiliated to Kazi Nazrul University, Asansol) in West Bengal, India. Contact: shyamasri.2010@gmail.com

Sweet Malida.jpg
bottom of page