Protima (The Goddess) The Goddess astride a lion, spear-tip dug into the bleeding heart of dying mahisasur, is power incarnate, creation-destruction in female form. The drumbeats rise above murmured mantras. Incantations spiral like incense smoke mixed with coconut husks, fog up towards the heavens; the idol takes on life for five days a year, awakened by the drums, the chants, a dancer's trance. Five days, the mother-preserver, flowers at her feet, stands among human children. Ya devi sharbabhuteshu shaktirupena shanghastita namastatye, namastatye, namastatye, namoh, namah. (O Goddess who is in every form the incarnation of strength, I bow to you, I bow to you, I bow to you, I bow to you.) Boroma (Great-grandmother) You were of harlot beauty, eight years young when old men searching youth's choicest blossoms crossed the cold marble halls. Your father's house was abuzz; frenzied flies mimicked flurried servants laden with foods, dripping with ghee, saffron, pistachio, milk, and you were the Sweet. You flinched in shyness when the old man, searching for his son's bride, tilted your chin to peer into the flame of your dark child-eyes and drowned; taking you. Thus was your youth wed to old lust; a brahmin's will made you the third, child-wife. You spent many nights tracing mango leaves, the ephemeral patterns on a moonlit ceiling; at fifteen fled your bed of want, tumbling from the window a burgeoning bud, then fell, three stories down. Your sari undraped, you fled your shackles, swam the woman-river flowing from the heavens; the Ganges took you home. He came for you; this time, your eyes afire, you quietened the marble halls, the chill walls resounded with the silence of your anger. They called you evil for you had defied your Lord. You had the madness of life, annihilating to create, and from the ashes of the child-bride rose a new relationship. When you went back your poet-husband created art in a tribute, immortalized your strength in faded pages of an ancient book treasured by my Dadu, your grandson. Thakuma (Paternal Grandmother) Gold anklets are sacrilegious, so your infant feet tinkled silver. You were a cherished child, only daughter. Cocooned, you grew to womanhood, knowing your worth in gold. Then shenai strains mingled with fragrant sandalwood and rosewater, as you shimmered in red brocade, your face glinting with jewels, bracelets on glistening arms. As you circled the sacred fire seven times, your father muttered ancient mantras, giving the gift of a virgin. Warring nations forced you to flee the land of your birth. You lost your husband in an alien land, looked at seven infant mouths and willed yourself to live. Widowed, you were shorn of hair, arms bracelet bare, vermilion scraped, your color pale white as your widowhood. Those were desperate years. You lost a child to illness; another, seeking heat on a chill night, crawled into the open fire. You sifted through the ashes of burnt hopes and survived; like rice replanted in alien fields, you gave your children a place to grow, creating life out of chaos. Your fourthborn became my father. Prarthana (a prayer) I am restless, twenty-six years heavy with the burden of things undone, unsaid. Yet I am no phoenix to burn, burn, burn into a glorious flame of creation. Let that cup pass. I want rebirth without trauma, life without destruction. Ya devi sharbabhuteshu shaktirupena shanghastita namastatye, namastatye, namastatye, namoh, namah.
*Generations” appeared in Tongue’s Palette: Poetry by Linguists, Chicago: Atlantis-Centaur, 2004, 85-88.
Migration, Exile...These Are Men’s Words
Migration, Exile...these are men’s words. Women have always been torn up like rice seedlings to be replanted in marriage (or another name); my language weeps its wedding melodies in many dialects, many tunes In my next life, O God, don’t make me a daughter: Exile, Migration...what meaning then? I am no woman-poet-migrant-in-exile. Keep your labels, please. I am not tamed by toil, shoulders stiff with xenophobia; nor a person of colour shunted to workshops where grievances grow in collegiality. I am a nomad, homeless, rootless, I am the zephyr -- the vayu that breezes past rooted trees. I swish past suburbs, four-bedroomed homes, theatered basements, the two-car garage; nothing stops me as I skim by brooks snake to large rivers, course by course, I am fed by a hunger, sharper than life, to live in this;to suck bare a skin, tender as peeled lychees, always terrified that there may not be another rebirth to appeal to. For now, there is this. New beginnings, another journey, roads unravelling untraveled. I find my muse as much as she finds me, without home or temple, veena in hand, book in another, in the feminine infinite we make our home.
*“Migration, Exile...These Are Men’s Words” first appeared in Sugarmule (USA), May 2013.
...two teenage girls were gang-raped and then hanged from a tree in a village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh... Reuters, Thu May 29, 2014
from hemp ropes on slender necks, the embroidery glinting on a kameez, let susurrations visit the unrooted. Was the younger almost asleep, tunelessly humming, when the older hissed, Come, I need to go now, water-can in hand towards malignant fields? The villagers squat on dusty haunches, think of moonglint on unfastened buckles, khaki pants, the thrust of earth rising. There is anger, and lewd spectacle, in the gaze of old men.
Sing, sing the myths of Mother Earth unzippered as refuge. Oh, Mithya – Lies! -- look, babies unshoveled into the earth only blossom into meat, swinging from the sky.
*“Turn Away” first appeared in The Aerogram (USA), August 2014.
The hideous gang-rape in Delhi is part of the continuum of violence millions of Indian women face every single day...The Hindu, December 19, 2012.
In Delhi, drape age as a shawl. Be silent. Invisible. The decades shield a body, the spreading contours (like a burqa in the wind) merely hinting at sexuality. Sometimes --not always-- age allows freedom to pass through piss- filled backlanes, untouched by men who catcall and jostle against breasts, masturbate on buses, reach out to fondle a pubis publicly. Years ago, a broken bus in Delhi forced a night walk past the ramparts of Purana Qila. Dimly lit turns cowered, each shapechanger Rape in its mustachioed menace, waiting to pull apart labial lips in the primal scream, destroying the only thing a young woman is responsible for safeguarding, her impenetrability; her mate, her education, the dominion of others. Through the years this shawl, stained by the slow drip of semen on a local train, the sudden shock of a penis behind the guise of a lost traveller near home, the embrace of a male relative, a stranger’s grope; this shawl, woven with the collective memories of women shamed by Why-only-you? How-did-you-ask-for-it; this shawl, like our dupattas and anchals, meagre veils against men brought up badly; this shawl knows how tenuous the threads, how easily torn...This shawl, is now part of the communal sloughing, slouching uneasily towards losing all our cover-ups.