My Grandfather’s Stepmom

As a child she grew on sunshine
she was married at fourteen
all those years ago – decades decades ago
to my great grandfather- he was fifty
she was his third wife
she came carrying a box from Burma
filled with silk, jewels and silver.
Before she got around to wear her pearls and corals
she was widowed at sixteen 
can’t believe how he died
robust looking in the photograph with his first wife
and their two boys  – my grandfather and his brother, naked –
children wandered naked till five those days
just a golden girdle around their waist to keep away evil eye
there is no photograph of him with his third wife
she could be wiped clean
like the moisture on an old photograph
that smudges images.
Her father took home the young widow,
she had to be schooled in life of widowhood
how to suppress sexual urge, be selfless
self effacing, lead frugal existence – never
never ask for anything from anyone
only give give give
serve and love, work long hours uncomplainingly
live a life out of the box made of iron
that she came back with to the family of her husband
her step son – my mother’s father and my grandfather.
The contents of the box:
two nine yards widow sari
the Bagavad Gita, the Ramayana
manuscripts carrying ancient mantras of healing
a rare wisdom that her father passed on to her  
and prayer beads made of seeds from the trees growing in the Himalayas –
the rudrakshas chosen with great care, feeling for the grooves
soaked in milk, sanctified by prayers
strung together with chants and thread
the talisman that came to protect her husband’s family
even years after her memories of him dimmed.
The gentle clang of turning prayer beads
low hiss of japa – the fortress of prayer she built through generations
protects me now.

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5 thoughts on “My Grandfather’s Stepmom

  1. … the fortress of prayer she built through generations
    protects me now.

    Such a brilliant close, when you’re expecting the narrator to repudiate all that.

  2. Uma, this is fantastic and causes me to wonder how it would sound in any of the languages this story occurs within. I’m careful about assuming poems are autobiographical, but if this is an authentic family narrative, then it is even more rich and memorable. Thank you for sharing.
    JDM

  3. Uma, truely amazing poem. Specially the selfless life of every woman that caters to maiden family and still firmly holds on to her husbands family.Giving, Giving and Giving is so inborn in ‘her’.
    Thoroughly enjoyed!

  4. uma, a mirror image of my great grand ma. lots of women were like them those days. beautifully written. poignant and touching.

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