மடல் பெரிது தாழை
She was peripatetic
slung a bag across the shoulder
A pouch of puffed rice salted tempered with pepper
moistened the old saree
frayed at the shoulder with sweat
She walked until she couldn’t
identify a single species of tree
to learn anew
which one yielded edible berries
if Pandanus bore flowers
in the rosette of spiked leaves
My mother’s friend bemoans that she lives in a poor village – there are fifty families in the village and the agraharam like a line segment hemmed in by temples is straggly.
Her house is ramshackle, she bought it for a song because that was all she could afford in her post-retirement wish to move out of the city for a quiet life. When I visited her, she warned of the scorpions under the tiles, mice that sneak in through the mitham, and centipedes that permanently reside in the washroom. There was a contraption that looked like the one used to hold down a snake. Seeing me eye the long rod, she said it was used to pull down drumsticks and lime from trees. I remained alert during my stay and watched my steps.
Her husband took me around the village. The banyan tree dwarfed the temple and arched across the narrow road to canopy the large and mossy temple pond. A dirt road led out of the village to acres of shimmering paddy fields – heads of the tall grass heavy with grains, the stalks a coppery gold. When the sun moved high in the sky, the earth became a column of light, and I could barely keep the eyes unblinking. He led me to a tree and we sat for long in silence as dark patches gathered at the corner of my vision. In the city I had not experienced naked light; tall buildings and dust-laden trees bounce off the glare.
He wiped his forehead with the carefully folded thundu. His veshti was crisp and his shirt neatly ironed – echoes from the days he displayed fine taste. Many of my friends desired him to be their father, or rather desired their father to be like him – stylish and suave; he wore shades for Madras summer, and went for a jog near the Marina in shorts – something that only film heroes did.
He worked as a technical director in a film studio – what job that entailed I do not know, but l knew it commanded an envious lifestyle of parties and travels to places that I had to look up in the atlas. He sailed in a cloud of perfume, you could smell musk for hours after he left a room.
I wasn’t perceptive then; in retrospect, I see the cracks: his aspirations tensed his relationship with his wife. Now in the absence of all that he possessed, I sense a turmoil, his dis-ease with himself, and alienation from the resplendent kingfisher just a metre away hovering above the wild fern fronds.
The row of chairs in Kabali Talkies trembled as he
flapped his legs like wings, squat they hardly reached the floor.
The grains danced, broke up and assembled into a face –
Avvaiyar’s eyes caverns of coal, the mouth squiggles of insects.
There is the Ancient One in every family, ageless and padded
in legend: mine was widowed at seventeen, her head shaved,
remained blouse less, and shredded of all that made her a woman.
The movie was long, engrossed me for three hours as she
shed her youth, beauty and became the old woman I knew
in the kitchen, living in the interspace of desire and memory.
She rolled the rosary and recounted stories late into the nights
her body a begging bowl that refused to ask for a day more.