What I Know

Translated from the Tamil original “Gnanam” by R. Rukmani

The child in my womb wanted to know,
“Amma, what is an atom?”
I said,
“What would I know about atoms?
My love, I know nothing about such things.
Ask me, instead,
about jasmine flowers
or dew drops dancing on the tips of grass,
the hanging nests of weaver birds
or the cuckoo's song.
These things I can tell you about, my love.

My little one started to ask,
"Amma, Jasmine flowe....”
Oh my god!
What deluge is this? What destruction!
Hell fire cracks and splits open the sky.
As though competing with the sun
a huge fireball rolls down
like the demon Kabandan
gobbling up everything in its fold!
The thunderous sound of a million drums
tears into my ear drums.

Somewhere far away,
millions of humans – lucky beings – evaporate.
The enemies of the earth
have churned up a poison
that spreads through the universe.

Corpses, living beings
brains and hearts,
trees, the grass, flowers
baby sparrows, earth worms –
they all die
or live on as dead
It's all over....

'No', they say,
'This is just the beginning'
So our unborn children too…?
Dear God! My child!
her children…
and their unborn children…
Shrunk and deformed,
corpses that breathe
contorted, distorted human beings.

Enough, stop!

We are with child.
The doctors tell us-
'It is all in your hands – the decision.”
For the first time this freedom to decide!
But no, this decision is a forced one.

Dear children,
do forgive us
My love, forgive me

So many of us,
murderous mothers
lined up to kill our children,
yet to be born.
It’s my turn now.
The doctor comes close.

My little one lies there in a faint.
It is the shock of the explosion.
Suddenly she awakens and starts to speak,
“Amma, tell me
about the flowers,
the grass, dew-drops,
sparrow- nests, cuckoo's song!”
I say to her,
“My love,
I know nothing at all about such things.
The only things I know of
are atoms, disease
and the way in which
your life was snuffed out.

Author’s Bio:

R Vatsala is a Tamil poet, fiction writer and former Systems Engineer at IIT Madras. Known for their feminist stance, her works have been published by literary magazines such as Subha Mangala, Kanaiyazhi and Pudiya Paarvai. Vatsala’s books include the poetry collections Suyam and Naan Yen Kavingyar Agavillai and the novels Vattathul and Kannukkul Sattru Pazhaniththu both of which have been translated into English as Once There was a Girl (Writers Workshop, 2011) and The Scent of Happiness (Ratna Translation series). Vatsala has won the Illakkia Chintanai award, the Agni-Subhamangala award, the Rajeswari Balasubramaniam award and the Thiruppur Tamil Sangam award. Her poems have been widely translated into English and have been featured in anthologies like The Rapids of a Great River: The Penguin Book of Tamil Poetry (2009), Interior Decoration: Poems by 54 Women From 10 Languages (2010) and All the Worlds Between (Yoda Press 2018).

Translator’s Bio:

R.Rukmani holds a doctorate in economics. In her three decades of work experience she has been associated with the Madras Institute of Development Studies and the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, both located in Chennai. She has worked extensively in the area of rural development , urban issues and food security. While she has always enjoyed reading in Tamil and English, she has recently developed a passion for translation.