The poem Choohon Ka Aachar by Nazeer Akbarabadi (1732-1830), translated from the Urdu by Musharraf Ali Farooqi and put into metric verse by Michelle Farooqi. This translation was first published in The Aleph Review, Vol. 2 (2018) and has been curated by digital guest editor for May 2022, Mina Malik, as her final curatorial piece for our website.
Once more does the marketplace beckon
In a lust for mouse pickle, I reckon.
I set out my salver with mice in a row
Then pounding wee heads and paws as I go
I stir up a dish of minced rodents so nice
How simply delicious—my pickle of mice!
Mouse killers of old have all come and gone;
The last of the trade, I alone linger on.
Hawking pickle of mice, as the populace knows,
They pursue me down alleys, surround me in droves.
I am showered with coins and gold pieces so fine
All for this luscious mouse pickle of mine!
For those who like mice in a veggie stir-fry
I’ve strung up in garlands the chewy and dry
Mice pickled in water, or mice soused in oil,
And have on the ready mouse preserve on the boil.
A mischief of flavours—do try some in brine.
This magically marvelous mouse pickle of mine!
No need for red chilli when termites will do;
Rotting nits take the place of mustard seed too.
In this ferment of leg, skull, vein, bone and tail
Some street gutter’s muck adds a kick to the pail.
Stir well, now do, and carefully combine
This sinfully scrumptious mouse pickle of mine!
Add now some earthworms and black snakes—a few;
Of scorpions and ants a generous measure will do.
Some grass I’ve added, a fistful of flies,
And dropped in a cluster of cobwebs besides.
A score now of spices—these will suffice
For this wickedly wonderful pickle of mice!
Now think not that just mice will do
Full bushels of bandicoots and moles make this brew;
Bedbugs, mosquitoes and lice in full measure
A pound and a half of blood-suckers give pleasure.
How perfectly splendid and nice
This concoction—this pickle of mice!
While the rodents are culled for their size
A kilo or more of frogs, pulverized,
Add to the shock of heady delight.
Come, friend—do take a bite.
Forty years strong of pickling and spice
Gave birth to this staggering pickle of mice!
Skull of bat and skull of swift will meet the eager eye
While feather of owl and vultures’ pubes the hungry will espy.
The makings of this scrumptious brew
Have balls of dung, bird droppings too.
Head of crow and gut of kite—these add a little spice
A tincture indescribable, is this pickle of mice!
If you’re craving a new kind of thrill
Mouse whiskers—pickled right—fit the bill.
Here’s a jug full of eyes, another for tails
Here are just pickled ears, putrid skin or entrails.
Mouse fur on the side might be nice.
A gourmand’s delight—this pickle of mice.
For the sum of a five rupee note
Can be yours a lizard compote;
If a gold coin you mange to proffer
Add a rotting mole to your coffer.
That bandicoot can be yours in a trice—
Take it, I beg! Sample some pickle of mice.
Should a clump of mouse whiskers once grace your tongue
All cares and concerns from your soul shall be wrung.
This powerful elixir is paid for in gold
From all over the world and wherever it’s sold.
Now proceed to the neck, all crunchy with spice
Then savour a head from this pickle of mice.
To the crunch of a rodent’s skull, if you aspire
Then embrace with delight your secret desire
And relish the crackle and fizz ‘neath your lips
It’s fireworks night from your tail to your tips.
Then sample again that sensation divine
That magically crunchy mouse pickle of mine!
Comes now the merchant with his bowl and pitcher;
The gourmand brings his platter and the niggardly wish they were richer.
For the wealthy alone can afford this delight
While the untutored poor shall ne’er taste a bite
Of this treasure well-dressed in pickling spice
This epicure’s dream—this pickle of mice!
Expel the gas from your gut and the bloat from your belly,
This pickle will turn your gall stones to jelly.
Stingingly sour and bitingly tart
The mango and lime can touch not its art.
Incredibly tangy, like the driest of wine
You’ll ne’er find a match for this pickle of mine!
If reckoning takes your fancy, then I’ll have you know
Thirty rupees bought a kilo, not too long ago.
With the monsoon rain, twenty-five buys a measure,
But come winter, you’ll pay thirty-two for the pleasure.
For the festival of Holi, forty rupees is the price
For a kilo, none too dear—of this pickle of mice!
Precious is my calling, most fortunate my trade.
As night follows day, so the pickles I’ve made
Bring forth abundantly in coin and bread
Cash for my strongbox, for my stomach, bread.
And so, sing I the praises of this concoction fine,
This money-earning, stomach-churning—mouse pickle of mine!
Michelle Farooqi is a visual artist. She has studied at the Ontario College of Art University and The Academy of Realist Art, and has specialised in eighteenth century classical drawing and painting techniques. She also works in oil, charcoal, pen and ink, soft pastels and oil pastels. She has a special interest in geometry, tezhip and miniature painting, which she studied at Hast-o-Neest. Website: michellefarooqi.com
Musharraf Ali Farooqi is an author, translator and publisher. He is the founder and CEO of Storykit, a program to teach language and concepts through stories. His last work of fiction is The Merman and the Book of Power: A Qissa. He is the series editor of the newly launched Getz Pharma Library of Urdu Classics (urduclassics.com), for which he has translated six eighteenth century qissas. The translated qissas will be published in an anthology by the University of California Press in its World Literature in Translation series in 2022. He can be found at micromaf.com
About the featured artist: Austrian-born Ursula Kiesling is a writer, poet and visual artist who has spent several years in Serbia and now lives in Pakistan as the spouse of her diplomat husband. She has attended residencies in Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Serbia, Spain, USA and, recently, in Lahore (IAC, 2020) and Florence (Arte Grafica Il Bisonte, 2021). From 2003 onwards, her work has continuously been on public display—in solo and group shows or art festivals in Austria, Germany, Italy, Serbia, Spain and the UK. From 2006 to 2009, she worked in public relations and project management for the Tricky Women Animation Film Festival and Generali Foundation Vienna. Ursula has also organised and curated art exhibitions in Graz and rural areas in the south of Austria.