The Skin of Tradition
The foreigner watches a wedding in fascination
large bindi squatting on her forehead
red saree colouring white limbs.
The elders enthuse at how she
sits relaxed on the dusty ground
reveres the sacredness of every chant
embraces chaos in wondrous happiness.
The Americans, Germans, English,
French, Italians flock here, hearts one
with conch shells; cross-legged,
slurp white rice and dal from banana leaves.
Yet I, I ask for my fork and spoon.
Yet I, born in a small town, tempered by heat,
coloured with tradition, married saree-clad
in front of the fire, complain of the fumes,
my eyes burning. I, brought up within these walls
make it a point to question too much:
Why should I, why must I, bow in respect,
hide in shame, follow rules and customs,
forget myself? I question for years.
Later, in London, that city I call home,
forgetting that at home tulsi plants sit in courtyards
white chita is drawn on Thursday
to welcome Lakshmi.
‘A city without temples scratching its skyline
cannot be home, ever,’ they pronounce.
I question for years.
The answer, thought but not mouthed:
You can appreciate culture
fold your legs in supplication
bend your head, fast all day in a temple
knowing tomorrow you will be home.
Today is a thrill, like climbing Machu Picchu
like rowing down the Okavango Delta.
When the blood that runs in you today
bled on a pyre hundreds of years ago
soaking chrysanthemum garlands;
when, had you lived in a village
fifty years ago, you would be
behind a veil waiting, watching;
when not that many years back, a marriage
marked you with blood red sindoor in black hair
closeted rooms, opened legs
breeding healthy sons
if not white widows.
Since you know all this, the legs don’t fold here
in the dust, in the sacredness
even though they do at yoga in the gym.
The heart that belongs, never accepting, runs,
runs the farthest,
to shed centuries of old skin.
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6 poems from the March 2015 issue of Episteme.
Your first born
Arms spanning the world
crushing it with iron strength.
Your second born
exploding fire from his mouth
burning souls in a day.
The ones who came after
raged for days
destroying the fabric of the skies,
the foundations of forests
ripping the sturdy mountains
until the streams dripped blood.
Still you didn’t stop.
You carried on
one after the other
advancing across geographies
living unimagined futures.
Till one day, they swallowed the sun
whole, shredded the earth
and washed away the paintings
of your image
Till they brought apocalypse
in the middle of the Yuga.
4 poems from the Jul-Aug 2012 issue of Muse India.
Yet another hotel room
The same layout
I check the soaps and the lotions
And add them to my growing collection
I fluff out the beds to make it more slept in
And try to make the night shorter by staying out late
Anything to make it quick
Anything to forget
The little crying face I left behind
The joy of achievement
The sadness of seeing your child cry
Where is the balance
As the stillness grows in the hotel room
I wish you a good night’s sleep miles away
And lie awake till dawn
Poems from the Sep-Oct 2014 issue and more of Mona’s work can be found at Muse India (where she can be found listed in the Authors’ Index).