Amma's Death - Poem by Prathibha Nandakumar
Showing the telegram helped to get a seat in the over crowded train.
Pushing the old gate with one leg and walking in was so
very like old times. But there was a fire in front of the door
One of the death rituals. Eyes stared.
'Youngest daughter' whispers followed
Long strides take me into the hall
and there she was sleeping.
Her moonstone nose ring sparkling.
There was life in her still but the priests
were already chanting mantras.
Elder brother and sister in law
explain in minute detail the last minute
how she looked, asked for water, how by the time
she got it amma had already leaned to the left,
no right, no left, yes right and how when sister in law
shook her shoulders she collapsed and how the doctor.
Now the priests instruct to bath and dress the body.
Amma had never let anyone do that to her and now
they do it in front of three hundred people.
They dressed her and placed her on the chatta
and still no one noticed the moonstone nose ring.
Women are not allowed into the crematorium
stand outside, announced the priest with full authority
There was no question of gender equality, in death you obey
Everyone stood at the gate with folded hands.
This is the last time we will see her, after this.
They closed her with fire wood and doused her with oil
The last ritual of going round the pyre was done
by the eldest son and after that the lighting and just then
amma's moonstone sparkled one last time
I jumped across the gate and reached the pyre and
brushing aside the sandalwood took out the nose ring
What was cremated was only a small bit of her
I had managed to take back her sparkle
The grand daughter is asking today
if I would give her
my diamond nose ring when I die
Translated from Kannada by the poet
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