Lakshmi From Kumbakonam

The boy skips
several times to the window
peeps impatiently
holding the rusted bars 
looking for his mother.

Will she wear a sari today
he fears the ridges of frown on Dikshitar’s face
seeing his mother dressed inappropriately for the visit
a strand of jasmines falling over her dark neck
a stole thrown hurriedly over her shoulder.

He has packed his cloth bag
there is nothing much in it
nothing that he wants to carry
from the dingy corner of the room
that he shares with ten others in Patashalai.

He is allowed to wear a shirt today
buttoned all wrong he runs
hearing his mother’s loud voice
her laughter rings through the dark passage
as she greets the Dikshitar.

She is wearing a denim pant, long kurta
and a fuzzy thing for a stole
her hair black, ripples of curls
is bunched with a yellow band
she has painted her fingers red. 

She fusses, she buzzes
as she buttons his shirt, wipes his face,
combs his hair
holding his jaws forcefully
till he screams loudly with pain.

She smiles, bends down and whispers
for five days no veshti
 only  pants, jeans and shorts
looks conspiratorially at the old Dikshitar
in whose face runs streams of disapproval. 

The boy of eleven, in his mind
screams for tact from his mother
-I have to come back here
my friends are watching
he pleads with his eyes to his unseeing mother.

She takes him to her one room tenement
stowed away on an old building
the heat pours through asbestos roof
the walls a garish blue floats like clear afternoon sky
as he lies on the floor swept clean by his mother.

The small place is stacked with things
a fridge murmurs softly
a TV stands on a rickety stool
heap of clothes on a steel chair
rotten bananas in a plastic bowl.

She has been collecting things
buying on credit, acquiring  by charity
appliances discarded by people she knows
a little wire fitted here, a tinkering there
things for her son to use when he grows up.

For now
he is a boy of eleven
learning vedam in Patashalai
his mother is single
a cook from Kumbakonam.

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