I can’t bear to move far from my roots
the place where I was born
the streets where my mother held my hand
and walked me down the years
as I quivered with fear of things
that never happened to me.
I believe I was spared because she gave a hard look at the world
challenging it to hurt me.
I linger at the crossroads near my childhood home
gaze down the road that goes south
at the world that I inhabited.
Whispers reach me across the loud noise of traffic.
A familiar face carries secrets of the past,
faces of people populate my memory.
My grand mother flitted across like a little beatle
in her yards of saree,
whose warmth I sank into
after playing in the yard
feet red with soil from her garden.
My mother bunched me into bus
walking a few steps after the bus moved
to see if I sat safely.
The face lined with concern
I invoke many times
as I sit looking at the night sky lit by a moon
lost for a time behind a surge of clouds.
I pause by the school she taught
glance at the doors, widows and the wide corridors,
the rain trees that shared space with her.
She had walked tirelessly through every single square area.
Passed through the lives of so many young souls,
facilitated young spirits soar.
My heart aches with memory
when I see the pale undersides of neem leaves
tossed by a gentle breeze.
Tall coconut trees, their leaves tangled on telephone wires
burn the years that have passed by.
I carry the baggage of memories
loiter on the roads that always take me home.
The bag weighs heavier than a dead man
a possession that I loathe to carry far from home
lest it disappears
and leaves me poorer.
No lines on the face move,
words caught in the throat,
cough up as a cantankerous rasp.
Arms lie stiff on the lap,
furrows on the face deep set.
He is a mere crust,
core turned out .
Time ticks by
on the clock
whose hands he
watches with no curiosity.
A bird whom we came to call Varalakshmi
fell into our terrace garden.
I noticed her one evening while watering plants.
A shadow shot across
a pigeon, feather thick with water, crouched behind a pot.
Mustering courage she stepped out gingerely.
She spun around several times and stood still.
I stood close to her
she did not see me
I wondered if she was blind.
I let her be
knew she will come to no harm here.
Suddenly everyone seemed to know so much about pigeons.
Ranjita said, ‘She’s a baby, let her be. She’ll fly away in a day or two.’
Mami said, ‘She’s spinning the way planes do.
She’ll will take off soon like a plane.’
Ezhumalai carried Varalakshmi,
bunching her feathers in his large hands saying,
‘She’ll be fine.’
My son scattered grains on the floor,
observed that Varalakhsmi had a purpose
in staring at the wall.
Varalakshmi walked on water,
daintily stepped around the grains
focusing only on spinning.
Her favourite perch was my pot of mint.
Her droppings spread interesting patterns on my red tiles.
We learnt to track her when she sat silently under air conditioners.
She slowly learnt the use of water.
She clumsily dipped her peak and drank,
lifting her head to look at the wall
as though her life depended on the wall.
Varalakshmi did not care for cooked rice that we placed at several places.
My advisors – the cook and my domestic help
pitched in again allaying my fears:
‘Don’t forget the worms in the pots.
She’ll take care of herself.’
Mami took off on a spiritual plane:
Birds are born with intelligence, you know.’
Tired of making attempts to fly
Varalakshmi drained her energy.
I saw her slowing down,
she spinned less
but she never lost interest in the wall.
I found her one evening dead in a green secretion
far from the wall that gave her so much comfort.
We miss her though she stayed with us less than a week.
My son, pain in his voice, said ‘Silly girl!’
Varalakshmi lay alone, near us.
And we had hoped that she would learn to identify us as her family.
A little girl, hair streaming over her eyes
steers the boat.
Angling the oar,
holding one at a time
the waif swings her weight on it.
Happiness gleams in her eyes as the
boat creates waves
red as ruby over the lake
ablaze in the evening sun.