Petrified pigeons in a flap
flapping away to safety
Petrified pigeons in a flap
flapping away to safety
It's been seven years since she left us so suddenly.
When I think of her, I think of this beautiful song, Gori tore nain, kajar bin kaare kaare kaare
She had beautiful dark eyes and eyelashes, and never used kajal (kohl). She never needed to.
And this was something I noticed perhaps the very last time I met her, after knowing her my entire life.
I am so glad I went with her that time to see the flowers blooming in her garden.
I am so glad we had that brief period of living in the same city.
I am so glad we were back from our road trip to Amritsar, barely a week before she left us.
I am so glad she was able to come to Kolkata as often as I needed her to, despite her own health issues, to help take care of our parents when they were ailing.
I am glad that after she left us, I could take her precious gift to our sister-in-law in England.
I am glad she was not here to witness the devastating loss of her son last May, when Covid's malevolent second wave wreaked havoc in so many homes.
I am glad that I have wonderful memories of this immensely talented and determined person, who cut and sewed a beautiful frock for me when she was barely twelve. She was the one who plaited my hair, who read to me cuddled up in our brother's bed, when he was away at college. She taught me so much. We argued and we quarrelled, we loved, we hated. I was jealous of her privileges, she was jealous of the pampering she thought I got, as the youngest child, and of my shapely finger nails. She was immensely hard-working. She had beautiful hand writing, and would send beautiful cards for every birthday and anniversary. She sewed baby clothes for my children. She was immensely generous.
Where do I begin, and where do I end, dear sister?
When you left, you took away my childhood, our childhood.
There's no one left who shared it with me...
2nd March, 2022
I bought Write in Power: An Anthology of the Personal and the Political in October 2021, after watching the beautiful webinar organised for its launch. It was a book I simply had to read, also because I had recently read Vijaylakhmi Harish's brilliant book, Strangely Familiar Tales.
When I browsed through the index, once I had the book, I was pleased to see some familiar names, of women I 'knew' on Facebook, Srishtaa Aparna Pallavi, Hema Gopinathan Sah, Anjali G. Sharma, (whom I have had the pleasure of meeting). Their poems are powerful and hard-hitting. I quote from Hema's poem, A Prayer For/To Everywoman:
There was a body I was born with, this body, though, I have earned.
I am not pretty. I am beautiful.
In another powerful poem, she writes
Do not insult these hands that wear bangles.
Upon them you are held.
It is hard to do justice to this book without writing about each and every chapter. Let me mention a few themes off the top of my head: a voluntarily child-free woman ponders the impending loss of her uterus, in a chapter that is both moving and hilarious. A visually impaired woman recalls the agony that was her schooling. A neighbour attends a memorial service at the home of an elderly mashima who seems deeply unloved and unmourned by her family. An accidentally pregnant woman is brow-beaten by several gynaecologists who disagree with her request for an abortion. A widowed mother goes to buy gold jewellery for her daughter's wedding, in a chapter that speaks volumes about the treatment and status of widows even today. A woman whose husband's criminal activities endanger her life and well being. A Dalit woman's agony at the death of her auto-rickshaw driver father's death. A member of the minority community decides to emigrate, sacrificing all his childhood dreams and aspirations. A community where young girls fake possession as Devis. A girl is fat-shamed by her so-called well-wishers. The difficulties of coming out as queer, not just to family and friends. The beautiful chapter called Meditative Monsoon Recipes for Healing Chronically Ill Queers. There is much much more, as well as powerful poetry, wonderful art.
It is a book that shakes you out of ignorance and complacence. It is an education in empathy, brilliantly and beautifully written, curated, and edited. I conclude with an excerpt from the editorial team:
The Hidden Pen Collective seeks to amplify writings from South Asia, from the margins imposed by caste, class, gender, race, religion, and sexuality. For aeons, our stories have been set aside, our voices have been silenced, and we find in the 21st century that we are still struggling to be heard. In this compelling anthology of fictional and non-fictional prose, poems, and art, we present the writings of twenty-four writers and artists from an inclusive spectrum of human experience. These perspectives speak to the intersections of the personal and the political creating a space for discussion and change. We find our power in our traditions, or by breaking those traditions. We look outwards for love and acceptance, or to our own selves because we are all we have. Our stories - rebellious, accommodating, loving, suffering, defeated and in victory - declare our essential power.