Taste — An ode to Kwai
My inner cheek peels away in a stringy lace of white,
My mouth is flooded with saliva,
Threatening to let slip and dribble
My childhood soul, plunged deep
in the belief that politeness is essential to order,
It will not allow me to spit,
Relieve my tongue of this grit and slime,
Now burning the roof of my mouth,
Hitting the back of my throat.
I kept my mouth closed, hide my ugly gums, blackened, stained, cigarette smoked,
I thought, At least this reddening paste might give them colour, hide the years
Of meditated silence, and the desire
This cavernous mouth betrays, wanting to taste
Every bit of this tiresome world,
Smirk at its insistence on hygiene and beauty,
Molar on molar, I gnash and grind,
And I swallow, flesh, spit, and bile, my resolve, my flagging desire,
I inhale the pencil lead smell, exhale staling air,
I prefer to chew, it saves me the need to speak.
Is tribal rage guiltless?
I saw a skinny boy kick a head,
Yell, “My people! Come with me!”
Another tried to slap the helmet off a rider,
Justifying, “What was he staring at?
A third, goading, “Beat him off our streets, our roads!”
Is that blood I see, or the spittle stain
Of kwai, embossed on every surface?
Born of suicide and blood,
This humble betel nut.
The air was clean, too clean,
I could taste their unwashed bodies,
I fought the thought that they smelled
Slept in, cheap.
No incense stick rituals accompanied
Our morning ablution.
I could feel the heat rise to my face,
Or was it theirs?
I saw terror flash across a stranger’s face.
And triumph in the kicker's eyes,
Face masked. Voice cracking. Skinny jeans, skinnier arms, sticks with a stone.
Is it limitless?
Some say, too many unemployed,
Some others, too much corruption,
Still more, too many silent,
In the corner, a voice chimes in, too much alcohol,
Another adds excitedly, too many drugs,
Too much, too many, all of it.
Someone whispers, it's for money,
Election's upon us,
Another asks, what about us?
They are coming to take, cackles some other,
I hear it repeated, in huddles of two or three, in drunken conviction,
They are here
To take our women, our jobs, our claims,
I see it scribbled on Facebook pages,
On WhatsApp forwards,
On YouTube comments.
They, they, they, we, us, them, me
La tee do.
Is it relentless?
I think I know what it is,
It wells up inside me,
Fills me with a jolt of heady pride,
At my name, at the place where
I pretend I have an ancient claim,
Till it fades, flags, subsides,
In hangovers, delicious bedside diatribes
On which to pass out at night.
I close the browser, clear my history,
Mute notifications till I change phones
And forget that these will pop into view again,
Some lazy Sunday.
Laptop lid up, screen on,
Sitting here, in a haze, but warm,
in a first storey room, curtains drawn,
Laptop lid down, screen off.
(Basil Darlong Diengdoh is half Darlong and half Diengdoh from Meghalaya. He is Assistant Professor at the Department of English, Dibrugarh University, Assam.)