Idli/dosa batter/lemon juice laden with sugar + cardamom + export-quality Kesar / bitter gourd pickles / dried red chilli paste that goes well with jowar roti and must last for a year / the unplanned veggies that I bought for cheap and now need some thinking.
Lesson: Adjusting is not an art.
Leftover rice (now mine) / carried over sambhar (now mine) / curry that he doesn’t like (now mine) | sour curd (now mine).
Lesson: Space is a dirty word invented by feminists.
Fresh curd / pumpkin peel chutney / milk / cut fruits / flavored yogurts / the extra diet jazz.
Lesson: Pretence is not injurious to health.
Dream As A Door
It is October, and I am 8. I am wearing a white knee-length dress with brown flowers screaming on it. I have a handkerchief in my hand. With the other, I hold Appa’s wrist with the strength that can come from a tiny girl’s body. We are standing on the bridge where beneath she flows — mud red — mauling the earth. Amma says three things in nature menstruate: women, leaves, and rivers. As for her, gentle is not in her vein. She gives and loves fiercely. She’s Kali: named after the raging goddess and the shade of dark. While Appa explains how (s) and why(s) of dam construction, I don’t dare look her in the eye. I lack courage. To look at the face of water is to tease death. I stand, wondering if I should take the plunge.
It is September, and I am 16. I head to the Sathodi waterfalls for an exciting trip with a group of friends. I wear jeans that have become heavy after swallowing the rain like a hungry infant feeding on mother’s milk. While hopping the huge rocks, I slip, I fall, I touch the base of Kali. I see flashes: faces, colours, poetry books, homes — everything probably that death offers before it takes what it desires. A friend pulls me out. I snap out, coughing the end, spitting it out.
It is August, and I am 32. The sun floats on the wideness of the sea. I stride in to feel the waves crashing at my feet though it doesn’t beg either mercy or approval. With every step forward, it sucks me in. I break down. Here, the salt is the sea. I am broken, not enough to dissolve.
The Gowli bai, the tribal woman, squats after drinking her glass full of milk tea. She is wearing a green six yards saree and has wrapped a faded towel - with holes - around it. She untucks her pouch, loosens the drawstring. She spreads out three betel leaves, adds some areca nut, some limestone, some tobacco, folds them all, and stuffs it in her already red mouth.
• She says you smell death, but that’s not always necessarily dramatic.
• She says death doesn’t come as Lord Yamraj sitting on a locally bred buffalo with his signature devil-styled helmet, gold accessories, and matching footwear.
Instead, death begins as a recurring dream until it becomes water: odourless, colourless, and tasteless.
A Cost Sheet Full of Liabilities
I teach my six-year-old daughter to be subtle with colours. Shades are like personalities; they vary. Every time my maushi (aunt) visited me, she asked me to colour her nails, red blood. She beamed, her fair hands flaunting power, which was otherwise hidden in the tiny tight box of rare spices. Approval is a serious business with no profit ever for the women of the house. Tallying balance sheets is a joke. We know how the food we cook can taste without adequate salt. We are always paying the prices. Ask us, once.
My mother taught me only two shades. The palette was unnecessary.
Sky blue: pointing at the limitlessness of the vast, telling me that I could fly high and grab a dream from the pocket of life.
bruise blue: hiding the hard slaps, dense clouds on thighs/back/stomach, telling me that every dream has a price tag.
Is one minus one always a zero?
Loss hounds feeding gaps where quarters of love slip through. How much of I is gone, and how much of you remains? On a cold night, when the head toe stretches out seeking warmth, a whiff of chilled air settles on its nose — shudder pools in my back. I am reminded of you. I retract. I google how to let go of my mother’s guilt that sticks to my uterus and how to deal with approaching menopause without losing my head to it. I learn that sometimes: to lose is to defy; to hold the loss on your rough palms and sleep peacefully is the sign of another becoming.
Is the whole more significant than the sum of parts?
Every time my father fails to keep up his promise, a hole punches itself on my weak body. The crater nests words of a vernacular tongue that has tasted betrayal. Or is this feeling of abandonment? I am too confused about the two. The words sit in a circle listening to the darkness that makes them original. Fill the punch hole with lotuses. Repairing is what they taught us young. But whoever has been able to stop the quiet sprouting? Words slowly mix like water and salt to become the history of my spine. When I make notes and knot them, they become a suicidal song.
Dear Father, I tried patching myself with your ethics, but my body is a shredded chamber of falsities. Please forgive me.
Is the end of a line a point?
Where the mutinies between language and ache blur: mother’s lullaby.
Devaragudda: A Visit
Who maintains a record of birth, asks Beerappa. Keepsake is a joke. He claims he is seventy with an unsure linger on his tongue gone thick with tobacco. In his gruff voice, tiredness looms — a puffy cloud that just crawls and crawls through the sky. We find him at the entrance of the temple. He waits in his professional attire: an orange turban, a long wool jacket patched by remnants of vibrant imagination, no footwear, and a bowl. In his sling bag is bhandaar, the yellow powder which he smears on everyone’s forehead for a price. Ma fills his bowl with a mixture of ghee, bananas, and sugar. He pulls out his damaru, and in swift breaths, he blesses something that we can’t decipher. He demands Ma to give him a generous amount of money, and as Pa opens his wallet, he snatches it all. Can obscenity of survival ever become poetry?
I take small packets of rock salt to offer the snake god. Pa is unhappy with my bargaining skills. Seeking a miracle is a sign of desperation. He doesn’t just get it.
Men and more men in orange shirts, ankle clad with strings of ghungroos, walk in the rhythm of faith. They perform the horse dance in front of the temple and beat themselves with the knout in between. I shut my eyes. Salvation is a dirty act. Ma says that this is their way of asking forgiveness. I leave it at that. But all I will remember to retain is this.
Ma talks relentlessly about how they journeyed in bullock carts every year. Memory is a good reference point. It tells you how and how you have been carrying the black hole in your corners.
We head home now. Comfort is a disease of convenience.
(Poornima Laxmeshwar is an author from Bengaluru, India. Her books of poetry include Anything But Poetry (Writers Workshop), Thirteen — a chapbook, (Yavanika Press) and Strings Attached, (Red River). She tweets @poornimasl. She tweets at @poornimasl. Views expressed in this article are personal and may not necessarily reflect the views of Outlook Magazine)