Coming Back II








Coming Back II

Clocks are such a waste of time.
The sun rises, sets.
Fires warm.
Water boils sleep comforts.
Found a morel in the forest
As big as a house.
Bought rose petal jam from a beautiful Francophone.
Watched the last of Lost
in a dive that gives motels a bad name.
Jack! Oh Jack.
I know how you feel.
You’ve been used.
Where is Hurley?
What happened to us all.
Be wary of who you waste your time for
They will eat you alive.
But sometimes you have no choice.
So I forgive you Jack.
And I understand.
We order pizza
To fill our false sense of time
Get fat
Eat some more
Stop, Go, Buy, Eat
Enough already.
Love you Jack.
Still, you and I,
We have a lot to learn
from Hurley.
But will we? Ever.
Go off the grid
Refuse plumbing
You will never come back.
The forest will soothe
Avoid the fast track.
No wonder you could not take it any more
So called civil society
Big trap, Jack.
Who needs it.
It is the ultimate prison
Motels, pizza on call.
And all that money buys.
From Cannes to Pembroke.
Lilacs, the forest in a storm
The only focus – the next morel.
The messy haired asparagus
Plop goes another stalk.
The obnoxious woodpecker
Knock knock knock
This house is mine
Knock knock – out.
What key does it knock on?
Something to return to
What key?
Brother woodpecker.
A hammock and a porch lies in wait for me.
Shit in an outhouse
Find the true meaning of life
Be here – now!
Lilacs again
They will be gone soon.
Flowers bloom, so brief
And die.
The silence of absence
Absence of the noise of silence
Its so empty here in the City
Highway 7A is still a trip – Oh heaven.
A few solitary birds
Sing – or do they complain?
Its so quiet in the City.
We come, we go
I found out that
time sits still.
It is clocks that do not.
I think that is what the Buddha found out.
Is there a balance?
Or are we far gone.
How can I bear the road again
Into the City
Cream of Asparagus soup
Chicken broth
Cobble it all together.
Be here, in the City, now?
Take that first step
Back into the wilderness
Clocks, unstill.
Buy a carcass of chicken
Bring to the boil
Skim tenderly
Repeat, repeat
Add a peeled onion
Stalk or two of celery
A sprig of tarragon from the garden
Brush your teeth
Get to the market before it closes
clocks again!
Return the water bottles for the deposit
Start again.
Start over.
Stock, chicken stock
for Cream of Asparagus soup.
I cannot bear this.


Renuka Mendis – Summer 2009?


“Lost” graphic source:

White Butterfly

Where do i go
what can i say
when you say what you say

what makes you inhuman
is your evil comfort
that which i sensed

the first time ever i saw your voice
you will puke when you read this
be my guest

or it will have no effect
which is even worse
how can you?
say the things you say

i guess that is why
you are where you are
and i am where i am

i am surprized at how strong i am
that all i do now
is clear my mind

it is not stunned
nor bewildered
it all makes perfect sense

and my eyes pond
with tears like the gentle
calming rain

like a balm
they soothe me
like a mother’s touch

when still a child
and ill with fever
hush little baby
baby don’t you cry

i have now seen a world
that i have been avoiding
that I’ve entered in pretense

and i know why
i was right not to step out
but only make my feet wet
with boiling hot water

just enough to get burned
but my skin is thick and calloused
from working in the fields
and they will still walk

picking cotton
from trees

cutting cane
under the fiery sun
with only a song
to shelter me

with one foot chopped off
for wanting
to walk free
to some other meadow
where rats don’t roam free

i will have to deal with
dealing with the past
for opening up
as it was easier to do

it is always easier
to forget
not think
not listen to your heart

we are divided
by things far greater
than fences and walls
or borders or flags

we are divided by consciousness
and irresponsibility

what we do and what we see
live on in our children
and their children’s children

i am responsible for those who are here
and for those who are yet to come
i am not an island
but a living breathing tree

and strong

i carry the burden
of the hurts of the past
by those who have walked
before me

if i did not and if i forgot
i will never reach to the heavens
but stop
stand still
fall down
and die

so will my people
and their children
and their children’s children

i will live my life the best i can
and it is not easy
and not as simple

as waking up
getting on a bus
and letting the day
roll over my back

a white butterfly
flutters in my garden
i don’t know what it is doing there

i am sure
it does not know either

may be it likes
the flowers may be
it doesn’t matter
who tended them

it does not matter
what nurtured them
love, pain, solace or evil
it knows no difference

all it seeks is the honey
no matter who put it there
no matter where it came from
or what hands watered them

dug the ground
planted them
weeded and pruned

it does not matter
to the white butterfly
what those hands
have done
or what they have not done

it does not know
it does not care
it does not need to know
all it needs – is honey

the white butterfly
the white butterfly
the white butterfly

blazing whiter
in the bright
summer light
hurting my eyes

don’t come here
go away
this garden is not for you

but it still comes back
and i do not know what to do
it does not understand

and i cannot even begin
to think of
grabbing it in my palm
squeezing it lame

dropping it on the ground
and squishing it
with the calloused heel
of my only black foot

that would be a sin.

so i walk on
in the blazing sun
shining and gleaming
with sweat


singing a song

hush little baby
little baby
don’t you cry
there there
a pretty butterfly.

by Renuka Mendis – from July 1, 2000

With acknowledgements for Summertime to :
George Gershwin
DuBose Heyward

Three Awfully Immature Poems from 1993/94

These are from about 1993 or 1994 and somewhat green but I am very fond of them as they are some of the first I wrote. Though some of these lines make me cringe they were from another time and I do not wish to change a word.  I am particularly attached to Tony’s Father and some of the straight off the boat innocence of Disillusion.


Tony’s Father

The old man always walked
across the front yard of grandmother’s house
she saw him walk by, morning noon and night
like clockwork, like the sun rise and set.

He wore a black suit, leather shoes
a hat, a tie and black rimmed glasses
His skin was very dark, his hair was very white
He was quiet, dignified.

I walked across the front yard of grandmother’s house
Walked back and forth till I was twenty one
I played there, made mud pies, was middle pig
Played house, on the concrete slab
cooked rice in tiny pots.

The Concrete slab has been there since time began for me
One evening the old man walked back home
across the front yard of grandmother’s house
He tripped and fell, they called the ambulance.

The old man could not get up
They put him on a canvas stretcher
He’d hit his head on the concrete slab
The children were chased into the houses
they did not want us to see the blood.

Tony’s father was hurt very bad
His sisters cried, we wondered why
The next day, there was a big black box in their house
With tall white candles on silver candle sticks.

Tony’s father was in a big black box
white stain-lined, satin tasselled outside
The lid had a tiny glass window
To let the sunshine in? for a last glimpse?

Tony cried, Frankie cried
We heard their wails at the end of our house
Everyone went to the funeral
We could not go, for we were children
We saw the procession pass by
from a crack in the back door
We were quiet and very very curious.

The old man does not walk
across the front yard of grandmother’s house
The old man paid rent to my grandmother
now his children do
They paved the front yard, there is no concrete slab
No one will trip, be put in a satiny black box.

There is a monsoon of snow outside
Tony’s father walked in the steamy monsoon rain of long ago
The front yard is paved over, the concrete slab lies beneath
The old man walks
Across the front yard of grandmother’s house.

by Renuka Mendis circa 1993/94




A needle stuck in my arm, the pain comes in waves
I am in it, there is no way out
The books did not tell me it was anything like this!
Amma is with me, she holds my hand
I cannot sit or sleep, I want to walk
I bleed like an open tap.

I writhe too much, the needle comes off
It goes back in, in another spot
Amma looks concerned, as she always did
when I was ill with chicken pox, when a little girl.
She gives me comfort, I know I won’t die
But this is going on forever, there is no end in sight.

The needle pops out, it goes back in,
    In another spot,
The pain goes on forever.

The hours seem like years
The waves are higher, intense, and there’s no relief
Does the baby feel the pain? it did not occur to me then.
I want it to be over, I want to sleep
Please put me to sleep, the nurse looks at me
   as if I were a child.

They take me to a room, put me on another narrow bed
It will soon be over, I tell myself,
But no, she has “more time” the matron says.
Is the needle in or out? I do not know
I do not care! just stop the pain, please!

The needle pops out, it goes back in,
   in another spot
The pain goes on forever.

I push and push, but no such luck
She has more time, the doctor says
I am exhausted, I want to give up
They ask me to push, I push and push.

Sweet relief! a messy blob of life
All covered in blood as red as a beetroot
You scream and cry, the pain is gone,
I am excited, did I really do that?
I have given you life!

When you are far away and when I miss you
I think of that needle and the pain
It reminds me you are real, you are there
The pain tells me of that invisible,
   retractable umbilical cord.

by Renuka Mendis circa 1993/94




I was mesmerized
the crystal, the china, the shining pots and pans
Mannequins in glass cases, golden haired.
Strings of diamonds lined the streets – viewed from a plane;
gleaming and shiny – cars on the ribbons of highways.
Tense people – running about
I still don’t know where they run to
Do they fall over a cliff? like lemmings?

In Amsterdam -
they sold rubber penises in the name of free expression
my eyes could not believe.
Above all this, windmills turned
church steeples reached out to the starry night
Museums -
graced by lacemakers and pearl necklaced ladies
and crazed, terrified pictures drawn by a lost man.

Keep the crystal, the china, the shining pots and pans
Keep the mannequins and the golden hair.
Give me my clay pots, covered in soot,
The smell of burning wood and smoking coconut leaves,
The sound of a bull drawn cart
rolling along to a song of human proportions.
I’ve seen enough of the lost man’s crazy pictures
I prefer the face of the devil in the jungle
I am tired of long stemmed roses in vases.
Oh, bull drawn cart, take me to the forest
where the orchid blooms, and the bright hued birds sing.

The smell of cow-dung is still in my memory
The feel of cold fresh water out of a well
The reek of coconut husks rotting in a pit
To end up as coir ropes,
Ropes that make swings for me to fly in!
The fragrance of treacled sweets frying
The innocent music of the language
spoken by villagers.

by Renuka Mendis circa 1993/94



pretty thuggery



pretty thuggery

when cosmos blooms and gangs up on you
on sidewalks as you pass
in sweet pinks and whites
a sadness enters; the rooms of the heart
slowly suffocating breathless in chamber pots of blood
but not enough to kill – a low grade terror.

when cosmos blooms on its way to full tilt en masse
fairies in pastel rising up from concrete to take them with you dancing
holding your reluctant hand by pinky finger
pointing you recklessly! towards a sunny end;
the cycle of nature that gives sweetness in shot glasses
but never in a three litre jug.

and blood’s oxygen keeps pumping iron
suffocating. pressing. near breathless, but just so far enough
not to kill off sadness that snuck in when you weren’t watching
feeding itself just enough to stay alive;
like cosmos’s boon on the sidewalks living between the cracks
milking the sun’s udders as if it were going out of style
and it hikes up its skirt on cue and careens down the paving stones
leaving behind empty shot glasses

by Renuka Mendis – aug 6, 2014

and… cue music: Annabel by Goldfrapp.!/s/Annabel/5Xsh9g?src=5 Song based on Kathleen Winter’s wonderful book. One of my beloved books.

Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew by Shehan Karunatilaka – a drunken note

I could write a book about Chinaman; but its late and I am a bit drunk. So consider this a shitty first draft.

A post colonial post post modern and well earned insult to colonialism and its barbarities; legacies and loves. Consider jonny; ahem and cricket. And a sweet sweet love song to cricket the way Sri Lankans see it, do it and love it. A highly realistic tale about Colombo people; their lives, loves, hypocricies and most of all their sometimes maddening yet occasionally adorable and definitely scary craziness.DSCF8261

Well. I’ve read Chinaman three times over the last two or three years and pining to re-read except for the stack of un-read books tugging at my skirt each time I pass them. At the outset I wonder if non-Sri Lankans will understand the gems in this book. And even for some who are not from Colombo some of it might go over their heads. Let me elaborate but not now. Later. In a twisted way I like that the book contains so many Srilankanisms (if there is such a word) and that not everyone might get it.

The achingly tenderest morsels in Chinaman are the few times when WeeGee talks about his long suffering wife Sheila in the tenderest way he can possibly come close to for an Arrack loving cricket obsessed drunk. And of course his love for Jonny is the benchmark for friendships for the ages. Irrespective WeeGee is a great man. More on that later.

The cruel corruptions that is the Colombo bureaucracy and the lives they destroy.

Beautifully written; Thousands would kill to write like him. Funny and even better –Sri Lankan funny! But with substance to every page. And read it also to find out what I.E. Kugarajah told WeeGee and here is a bit of a priceless (see I told you. insider’s privilege) catalogue I kept note of:
1. That the Jaffna of his childhood was the most beautiful place on earth.
2. That he invaded the pitch in 1975 during an SL vs Aus World Cup Game at the Oval, carrying an Eelam flag.
3. That he lost more relatives in the 1977 anti-Tamil riots than he did in 1983.
4. That he was a founding member of Eelam Revolution Organisation of Students in Wandsworth in 1978.
5. That it matters not whether you believe the Tamils were only brought here in 1823. Or whether you accept that they’ve been here since King Ellara Cholan’s reign in 100 BCE. They are now here to stay.
6. That most Sri Lankan Tamils and many Muslims would fail Lord Tebbit’s famous cricket test.
7. That the Burghers told to ‘burgher off’ in the 1960s by the Sinhala Only policy were the island’s first example of ethnic cleansing and its biggest cultural loss.
8. That ministers who laugh loudly, cry openly, bomb civilians, and burn libraries deserve to die.
9. That he trained with Palestinians in Beirut in 180 and several Tamil recruits died during that training.
10. That Buddhist priests have no business carrying handguns.
11. That many Sri Lankan geniuses have been Tamil. Anandan, Sathasivam, Mathew, Kadirgamar, Ediriweerasingham, and the Thalaiver himself.
12. That everything has a price. And that a Sri Lankan victory is far more expensive than a Sri Lankan defeat.
13. That Satyagraha does not work.

See I told you at the beginning I’d lose you. This stuff is arcane to outsiders. Insiders privilege and all that. But for insiders this is flesh and blood. Fear not you’ll find your way. Its worth the trip. All the bloody way to New Zealand. Yup.

More to follow. In the interim — this is in my top ten books list. I am not being arrogant, believe me I am a nice person but I feel sorry for anyone who has not read Chinaman; or indeed is unable to devour it as if it were a wonderful plate of your mother’s yellow rice with a killer beef curry, brinjals, ATD etc. etc. with Watalappam for desert. And of course Arrack on the side.

More later. Await a properly written review soon. Read the book. Really. Read it. No sh*t. You thought ceylon tea was the best thing that came out of sri lanka. No man. This is it.

hicis. as they say in Sri Lanka.

She loves you. Yeah yeah yeah.


I remember the Beatles song “She Loves You” so well. It was the Carnival at Good Shepherd Convent (“GSC”) and I must have been twelve. The “it” girls had a girl band in those mod mini skirts, huge wide belts and of course the obligatory rubber boots. The Carnival was an annual event to celebrate the beginnings of the Convent which by now had grown into a famous Catholic girls’ school. And 1969 was full of those amazing songs on the radio from England and America.

This carnival was special. The convent was 100 years old. This is not the Carnival of the Brazilian kind but more a bazaar with pop music straight out of Popular Favourites, fun and games, a carousel, a ferris wheel, a swan wheel and my fondest game where you catch a paper fish with a magnet. That kind of Carnival. I am getting old now and may have got my numbers wrong but this was a big moment for Kotahena girls who had gone to school there. April 15, 1869 was when the convent first began according to their website. So the 100 year celebration would have been in 1969 when I was twelve-ish. That age when you really know some things just are not quite right. But you are still a wisp of a child and your hands are tied by your powerlessness.

Amma taught art and was well known for her talent in Kotahena circles. Everyone was asked to contribute something. A few weeks before the Carnival she bought a large terra cotta vase that must have been about two and a half feet high. There was always a collection of sea shells of varying sizes in our household given our fondness of the ocean and fishing. We often ended up bringing pockets full of shells from the tiniest as tiny as a fingernail, to really large ones the size of a serving spoon.

Amma painted and decorated the vase to look like an ocean full of fish. She used UHU glue to stick on some of the shells; I can still remember some of the ridged ones for texture; and they were used as the body and face for each fish and the brush and paint did the rest by way of the fishes’ beautiful tails. Amma always looked utterly complete whenever she worked on these art projects. At the time I did not realize how important this was because she was a GSC girl and it was her means of participating in the celebration. The vase was beautiful yet restrained and not flashy. Someone came round and took it away presumably to be auctioned off to raise funds for the convent. I often think of this vase though it was in my life only for a few days; and then as a child.

The Carnival went on for several days as I recall and it was open in the evening and night all lit up with rows of light bulbs and full of happy young girls and boys and families. I always felt an outsider at school. Especially a Catholic school. But my mother and father felt it was the best school they could send the girls to.

My Father who I called Thatha, was a talented angler and very good with his hands. He was pretty much addicted to fishing each and every day. Thatha had promised to take us to the Carnival after he got back from his evening fishing fix from the breakwater. Fish was a huge part of our childhood. He always caught amazing fish and thanks to Thatha we had a regular supply of fresh geela, salaya in season, paraw, parrot fish etc. Sometimes he even caught pokirissas which are langoustines – the sweetest tasting crustaceans anyone ever came across. I think I was his biggest fan; and I always felt I was his favourite. But then may be all children feel that way about their fathers. He too was a teacher and they met when they taught together in a Colombo government school.

Now you know how it is with the moon. Some days its covered in clouds and there is no moonlight; on good days the sky is bare of clouds and the moon shines as a moon should. That is how it was in our home growing up. Some days it was dark and that was how it was on most days. And on those few days when it was not dark it was full of light, brightness and sheer happiness and joy. Singing and play. But as a child I never knew which days would be dark, which ones would be bright. Had I known then I would not have woken up on those dark days and stayed in bed – eyes and ears shut and oblivious to the dark day.

The day of the carnival outing came and we were all waiting for Thatha to return from his evening fishing outing. Thatha came in through the backdoor with his fishing rods and gear and probably some fish. We were all waiting for him to get ready to go to the Carnival. About a minute or two into his arrival I knew it was a dark moonless evening in our house. I could always tell and I am sure all my brothers and sisters were also expert at it. Our invisible shields came up and we usually hovered around Amma and we all avoided Thatha on these days – which were not infrequent.

We were all in the kitchen and Amma was heating up oil to fry something. Probably some fish Thatha had caught. The kitchen was at the back of the house. And a lot of what happened in the kitchen could be heard by those who lived around us. Next door were my uncle and cousins. Behind us were my Grandma, Aunt, Uncle and more cousins separated by a backyard that we all shared when we played.

Thatha looked sullen and Amma was walking on egg shells so as not to upset him; quietly and meekly getting the dinner ready. And my head was full of the Carnival. Amma was still making sure not to upset Thatha. Us kids, we were waiting for the next bomb to go off though only metaphorically – usually by way of a violent lashing out at Amma often injuring her. It was almost a relief when it happened usually because the happening of the violence was less painful for a child than waiting for an unknown horror to happen; knowing full well that it will. Like the lancing of a huge and painful boil.

That night Thatha read from a different play book. The oil was hot. The blue flame on the kerosene stove and the oil in the wok-like thaachi bubbling hot with frying fish. Thatha was angry at Amma again for no reason known to us except that he was just angry at her; just because he could. Thatha kept demanding that Amma put her fingers in the boiling hot oil. And I was watching this, at ten or twelve years old. My stomach still sinks thinking of this although I am well over fifty now. All I could think of was my mother’s fingers in that boiling hot oil. All I could think of was that this was going to happen. Even at that age I knew I could not bear Amma’s fingers in boiling hot oil. Though twelve I know it was a horrific thing to happen. Unimaginable. May be we all started crying like a chorus of kittens meowing for their mother’s milk. Crying in terror. My Thatha, my hero — the torturer. My sweet mother, my flower, my care giver. Fried fingers. My mother’s.

Later that night Thatha took a shower. Dressed up. It was time to go to the Carnival at Good Shepherd Convent. No one wanted to go. I did not want to say no to Thatha. I did not know how. None of the other children wanted to go with us. I put on a dress and walked up Kotahena Street to the Convent. The “it” girls were in there mod clothes and dark sunglasses because their band was going to play soon. And the Beatles were on the loudspeaker singing “She loves You! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” I did not know if I was coming or going. I felt a million miles away, as far away as the moon, from my Father. Thatha bought the twenty five cents ticket so I could catch fish with a magnet — but I don`t think I caught any.


Originally written for a Guest Post for December 10, 2011 for Sri Lanka 16 Days Campaign Blog Curated by the Women and Media Collective

Children of Midnight


had bit of a debate about slums today; on slums from my highly unsuccessful blog.

Originally posted on fenugreek:

There is something about slums from one’s birthplace.  They grab you by the balls and do not let you go.  Slums of Bombay, Colombo, wherever.  In Midnight’s Children the new film by Deepa Mehta based on Rushdie’s booker of bookers, when Saleem returns home once again (an Indian by way of London and Yale) to a razed slum looking for another midnight’s child and steps into the glaring ochre sunlight of Maligawatte flats in Colombo (well it seemed like Maligawatte, what used to be and is still arguably a slum) the brilliant light grabs you by all the veins that run in your body and shakes you awake from merely being the constant other to just being – in full living colour and glorious warmth.  I knew at that moment I’d be irrecoverably homesick when I stepped out of the cinema.  I knew my heart was stolen and soon to…

View original 2,676 more words

Out on a limb with brinjals and BBU


What I think is brinjal moju which is listed as simply Moju in Doreen Peris’s book.* I made it without the dry fish or karawala with some slight and not so slight adjustments. Until I am lectured to and hectored and corrected I shall call this brinjal moju.



On brinjals. I belong to an age where we were taught home science in school. Yup. They used to do that. Sewing. That too. Not that I have anything against teaching the necessities of day to day life except that the subject was only taught to girls; and boys did not need to know. That’s what I know. May be there were a few minor exceptions. I don’t know of those. There still is this crazy idea that cooking and sewing can only be done by women and girls and men or boys need not know a thing about it. Strange that. I thought you could teach a puppy any trick. Oh never mind.

At Good Shepherd Convent upper school started at Grade 6 and suddenly home science became a subject. A bit like a semi-grown up playing house kinda thing. There you learned how to make a bed god forbid; but not how to lie on it. As to sewing, hems were made on squares and the stitches had to be clean and virtually invisible. Talk about a tall order. At that time who knew that this was part of the great conspiracy but whatever. But back to brinjals.

The first thing they taught us to cook in home science was brinjals badala uyala and cheese balls. This may be part of my addled mind but before the cooking could start we had to have mastered how to make an apron and one wore it to the cooking class. You got into serious trouble if you forgot your apron for the home science class. Duly aproned we learned about balls and brinjals. The cheese balls involved boiled potatoes and grated kraft cheddar cheese to make them cheesy which were then breaded and deep fried. Something I never made again except perhaps once. I I recollect it really did not stand up to cutlis. Why bother to boil potatoes and go through the whole drama of breading and frying ra ra when you might as well make cutlis and what a waste of cheese dammit. Those expensive and precious blue tins of kraft cheese were there for only two purposes. 1) cheese and cheesebits; 2) cheese sandwiches. Not big sliced hunks of cheese sandwiches but those you made with grated cheese and sliced hot green chillies in soft chewy slices of bakery bread buttered with globe brand butter. Cheese balls my football. But I digress again not unlike Greece looking for the long way home (thank you Teju Cole).

Brinjals badala uyala stuck in my heart in the home science room at GSC. An early loaded food memory of sorts. But never mind the feminist conspiracy theory I still make a killer BBU and so does Arjuna despite ever having gone to a home science class. He learned it from love. Any time it is made I put my heart and soul into it which is never a hard thing for me when it comes to good food but this somehow gets a little bit more love. First loves of sorts.



Arjuna’s brinjal BBU; not from a book but how his mom made it

Now dishes made with brinjals that are fried come under different names but I no longer know what is what and the only thing I know for sure as to a label is the brinjals badala uyala. At GSC our teacher left out an important bit. She simply called it brinjals badala uyala leaving the dish thus unnamed but hereinafter to be known as BBU. Then there’s brinjal sambol, brinjal pahi, and brinjal moju in the grand pantheon of brinjals that are thinly sliced or cut lengthwise and then liberally rubbed with lashings of salt (or salt water in the days of coarse salt from the sea) and finger staining turmeric and then deep fried; after which more unspeakable things are done to them. Yah. At the end of the day fried brinjals are fried brinjals and it has no equal. Especially when the brinjals are good and piping fresh and not too big so that each piece has some skin on. The question whether my BBU is moju or pahi still remains unanswered. Amma never used words like moju or pahi you see so blame it on my bad upbringing.

In my tiny household when we do the badala uyala brinjals thing we call it eggplant. Oh I forgot to explain brinjals is another word for eggplant but Sri Lankans like to call them brinjals. As to the terminology of brinjals versus eggplant that is for another day. In the curry context there is no need of clarification usually but if clarification is needed when eggplant is on the menu – brinjals fried and cooked – is what comes up; a literal translation of the Sinhala expression. The words moju or pahi are never uttered around here.

When I was planning a menu recently and discussed with my cousin the possibilities given she had inside information as to preferences of those on the guest list brinjal moju came up. Some investigations from said cousin as to how her mom made it bore little fruit. Did it have vinegar or did she use tamarind, did she use dry fish in it etc. were greeted with a curt “ahem no clue.” And thus I ran off on a junket of my own as to what goes into a proper moju. Seems the term moju may be interchanged (inaccurately? thus this ruminatory rant) with pickle. Sambol is straight forward and that I know. But is moju the same as pickle in context of brinjal moju? And what the hell is pahi? Is that the proper term for BBU? If not what is the proper term for BBU and so on and so forth.

Despite having gone through all three of my Sri Lanakan cook books to figure out the difference I was still no closer to the truth here. A quick look on the web only made matters worse as to the actual terms used. Don’t trust the web.

So I’ve come to the inconclusive opinion just as bad or good as any football world cup referee’s decision that brinjals badala uyala (fried and cooked) must be brinjals pahi; and brinjals moju is brinjals pickle. And now to confuse things even further moju is usually made with brinjals and yes, fried dried fish or karawala. So technically brinjal moju without karawala in it is not really brinjals moju. However given that karawala was not on the list I think I may have made brinjals moju with a little help from Doreen Peiris bless her heart. Or is it a pickle?

So let the great brinjal debate begin. As to the sewing; that is for another day.




Use smaller brinjals and stay away from the huge ones so each piece gets some skin on.




3 lbs smallish brinjals (eggplant).
Turmeric powder and sea salt (the fine powdered type) for seasoning brinjals
½ – 1 lb Sri Lankan shallots from the Tamil shop if you are not in Sri Lanka, peeled.
Fresh Green Chillies – About half or same quantity in volume as the peeled shallots.
Oil to fry – lots. Not olive oil but oil with neutral taste or coconut oil.

2 tablespoons of Ceylon type mustard seeds
½ to 3/4 cup of Ceylon coconut vinegar
about 1 inch piece of fresh ginger
3 – 6 medium cloves of garlic peeled
chilli powder to taste and about 1/4 teaspoon or to taste of chilli flakes
A sprig or two of fresh curry leaves
A tablespoon of sugar

A few hours or more of your precious time.
A big deep pan to fry in safely.
Splatter shield just in case things splatter.
Kitchen paper towels.

Method in my madness:

Soak mustard in vinegar the night before and ideally seal with plastic wrap in case you have fruit flies or leave uncovered if safe. Alternatively cover and leave in fridge. Bring to room temperature before using.

Find brinjals that are not too long and not too fat and avoid the huge ones. Wash brinjals and remove the tough stem and cut them lengthwise into wedges about 3/4 inch at its widest. If they are too long feel free to cut them in half so each piece is about 5″ – 6″ max approximately. Breadthwise it should be no longer than 1 – 1.5 inches. Place in a large bowl as you cut and keep throwing some turmeric and salt to season as you go and mix gently. Leave aside for about an hour. Be careful not to over salt.

Peel the shallots then rinse well and drain and place in separate bowl. Wash the fresh green chillies and drain and make a slit (do not cut all the way) about halfway down the middle lengthwise with tip of sharp knife. Prepare the garlic and ginger and rinse and set aside the curry leaves.

Fill large deep sauce pan with about 2″ to 3″ of cooking oil (not olive oil). Bring to high heat (almost to smoking). Take a few handfuls of the brinjals and place in a bowl and quickly wipe with paper towels to remove excess liquid and carefully fry in batches. Adjust heat once the oil gets hot and deep fry somewhat slowly so they cook and turn nearly golden and crisp outside. Usually about 10 minutes per batch. Do not crowd the oil as this will result in the eggplant absorbing too too much oil like a sponge.

Drain in colander as you fry. Taste a piece from the first batch for salt. If it needs more salt add more to the rest of the raw brinjals and sprinkle the fried brinjals with a little salt to taste. You can keep doing this so each fried batch is properly seasoned. Fry all of the brinjals in batches.

Once brinjal is fried; fry shallots in batches and ensure some salt is added before frying. Follow with the green chillies and that too must be salted before frying. Add to colander as you fry.

Blend the vinegar and mustard in high speed blender and add ginger and garlic and chilli powder and chilli flakes and sugar. Be careful about not putting too much chilli as it may not be to your taste but the chilli flakes are important as it adds to the flavour. Remove to a bowl. Taste it for salt and adjust or add keeping in mind the salt content of the fried vegetables.

Place about 2 – 3 tablespoons of the oil (in which the vegetables were fried) in a large non reactive sauce pan that could easily hold about thrice the quantity of the fried vegetables. When hot fry the curry leaves till the whole house is fragrant then take off flame and add the vinegar mustard mixture and cook over a medium flame for about five minutes. Adjust flame to low so the sauce does not over boil. It should cook at a high simmer and then reduced to a simmer towards the last few minutes and it will thicken. Remove from flame and add all of the fried vegetables into the sauce and very gently incorporate the mustard sauce without breaking up the vegetables. Try your best to keep the vegetables in tact so it does not become a mushy mess while incorporating the sauce. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt. The vinegar and mustard flavour will be obvious but counteract beautifully with the eggplant.



The vinegar mustard dressing cooking and thickening.  From liquid to creamy.

Let the brinjal cool to room temperature. Store in a glass jar or non-reactive dish covered in fridge for a few weeks.  Make sure vessel and cover is non-reactive to acid etc.  I like serving this at room temperature with rice and curries. Would go well in a sandwich filling on its own or with left over roast lamb or curried meat.

This quantity generously filled a 1.5 litre dish and easily made a dozen servings. Kept well for thee weeks in fridge. Time for another big batch.


*A Ceylon Cookery Book, A practical guide by Doreen Peiris. 6th Edition. (no publisher is named but Printed at D.P. Dodangoda & Co. Moratuwa). 1983. At Page 65.