Romancing Burnt Sienna

This is a response to the second prompt from Magpie Tales started by Willow.

She stood at the window and looked at the sea. Beads of sweat cooled at her neck, a light breeze stirred her hair gently. Mosquitoes hummed drowsily and she became aware of the darkness settling in the corners of the room, the purple sky was descending into a well of darkness, the horizon disappeared after a last glimmer.

She moved to the large polished table, lit the bee wax candles on the wrought iron candelabra. The candles threw a pale pearly light in the dark room. She fidgeted the matchbox; her eyes descended on the box – burnt sienna, the colour of her marriage sari brocaded in the rich silk of south India. She ran her manicured finger over the box, opened it.  She smelt the matches; they carried the smell of a different world, a different culture, quite like her husband who carries a different time in him.

The burnt sienna triggered a memory of an evening when he took her to Arikamedu, a nondescript suburb south of Pondicherry.  It was once a busy port town that docked Roman ships. He took her in a boat from a fishing village, they went deep into the sea and the land curved behind them. She saw a mangrove at a distance and saw that they were moving beyond the lip of the land towards an inlet of a river, thick with moss and algae. The boat sliced the water that was like a sheet of green glass, just the way the Romans did in the first century, he said.  They pulled up on a thin bar of sand and beyond there was no habitation, only dense thickets.

He lead her through the brambles, polythene covers clung to the thorn thickets and blew gaily in the breeze from the sea. She saw empty bottles of beer and cigarette butts, revelers from the city she thought with disgust.

He wasn’t aware of his surroundings, he had moved to a different time and seemed a different person. He had been during those early months of courtship a mysterious lover who went on his archaeological digs, that evening she saw him descend into the world that he dug and excavated.

He took her to a trench where layers of digs had been completed, he led her down the trench. It was once a bead making unit, beads of various hues in various stages of making had been found there. Glass came from different parts of south India and it was blown into tubes, pinched into drops to make exquisite jewellery that went to different parts of the Roman Empire.

They stood on even land and he held out a shard of pottery for her. It contained beads, a dark mass in the failing light. As she held the pot he lit a match that threw light on the cluster of translucent glass beads the colour of burnt sienna. She held a bead in her fingers, veins of light flowed through the small piece of glass. She stood there transposed to the world that these drops of colour and light travelled, all the people they adorned.

She opened her chest of drawers and took the box where she had kept the bead. She placed the bead on the match box, the bead left a stain of glow on the match box. Does Bratislava have a Roman connection like Arikamedu?

Lakshmi From Kumbakonam -II

High drama scripts Laksmi’s life
as she takes vegetables out of the fridge
she narrates in a high pitch
the misses she experienced the previous day
she says her friend’s washing machine caught fire
smoke spread thick in the air
she had to pour buckets of water
she then cut her finger while dicing vegetables
pots of blood flowed from her wound
she shows me her thickly bandaged finger
I wonder how she is going to cook
it has drizzled – very unusual for this month, I observe
it rained really hard, she corrects
large pellets of rain fell on her as she drove her scooter
and she could not see the road ahead, she says
she is totally dry, though
I never interrupt her
I  listen to her stories
of the various things she has lost
a stole that was carried away by wind
when dried in the terrace
her outrageously rimmed driving glasses
that she kept on the window ledge
her scooter keys that fell off from her purse…

Then there are the ones
she carries silently like heavy stones
messy divorce
dear brother hanged himself from a ceiling fan
grand mother died of fire accident
caused by leak from gas cylinder 


a cruel incident,
that I only read about in papers
happened  to Lakshmi
this Deepavali

just the day before
she came to cook for my family
packing in a bag the new clothes
I got for her son
she went to pick him from Mylapore Patashalai
they took  a bus to Kumbakonam

I felt her presence in my kitchen that day
in the neat counter top
in the cleaned up refrigerator
in her recipe for garlic rasam

my mobile rang
the sound of fire works
then Lakshmi’s voice scaled over the noise
she cried,
a fire cracker has burst in my son’s eye

my mobile lost signal
then follwed her those painful hours
that she held her son
as she searched for help

she took him to hospitals
first in the small town of Kumbakonam
then to a famed one in Trichy
she spoke to me over the noise of the auto
and then as she bandaged her son’s bleeding eye in the train to Trichy

the retina had been burnt
he lost his sight in one eye
she slept in the corridors of the hospital
spoke to me from the canteen
as her son slept sedated in the ICU.


she can smile now after all that has happened
wear the largest of roses in her hair stylishly
match the colour of her bangles with her sari
when she visits her son
in the patashalai
that he has gone back to after the accident.

Laksmi can’t bear to see an apple rot in my bowl
she urges me to eat, eat them soon
she then gets hyper when my mobile rings 
and I take my time to answer the call
she worries that I have not heard my mobile
for god’s sake  I heard it ring 
she is indignant with the grocer for the mistake in the bill
she folds the bill away in her purse
visits the grocer
and brings me a few coins from him the next day

I had wondered why Lakshmi just can’t chill

I offer a theory
by being highly strung
she can deal with high voltage incidents
she is prone to accidents and tragedies
I wish she remains volatile always
to be prepared for life.


the dialogue
the two
in their own horizon of existence
the painter
leaves a mass of forms
puts down his brush
leaves without looking back
the sky dips into a pot of light
brushes green daze of the day
the other looks on
to understand the canvas