Vaidehi Poems

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1.
Tell Me, You Who Know

Tell me,
you who know of poetry –
I know nothing of it
but I know what rasam is.
...

2.
MY MOTHER'S SARI

There, in the wooden box
my mother's sari, enveloped in white muslin,
with mothballs.

Her sense of order is in each one
of its folds,
and the press of her palm.
A universe of ironing lies beneath the pillow.
Tiny packets of camphor, incense and fragrant roots -
her perfume.

My mother's sari's tucked-in eagerness
coupled with the jingling of bangles
is the zest to get down to work.

Lines running across the broad pallu,
the unbroken bridges of an upright life,
keeping all evil at bay -
a cane to reprove naughty children.

Folds tucked into a knot,
a mysterious treasure-house of meanings,
the pretty yellow Madhura sari
with its green border of blooms . . .
. . . that queen was perhaps like my mother.

Endless is my mother's sari -
the more I wrap it around me, the more it grows.
I remember becoming a midget once
trying to measure it,
trying to drape it.

My mother's sari -
the latex of mango and cashew,
a heaven of Ranja, Kepala and Suragi
golden wheat-beads auguring
the New Year Kani,
the old rolling over each year
to yield a new import.

My mother's sari,
with stars all over its body,
shields those in distress
from rain or shine,
it glows uniquely in the darkness

My mother's sari
of voile or handloom,
with a small dream of silk
When the dream came true,
Father was no more.
She wears it now
but the dream is gone.

There! My mother's old, Udupi weavers' sari
looks at me from where it hangs.
I unfold it and envelop myself in it
uttering with a long sigh
the word ‘Amma' -
a word that remains forever fresh,
however worn with use.
...

3.
TELL ME, YOU WHO KNOW . . .

Tell me,
you who know of poetry -
I know nothing of it
but I know what rasam is.

Do you think it's a mere nothing?
It calls for a blend
of the principles of water,
aroma and essence -
a tempered state reached after simmering . . .
Thus . . .

There it was in the corner,
a container with rasam,
on a seemingly dead and ash-covered
coalfire, waiting and waiting . . .
Does it matter that it waits?

In the great durbar of meat dishes
seasoned with spices that sparkled,
of servers who danced as they walked,
of laughter and chatter,
it had waited, since morning,
the clear rasam on a seemingly dead
coalfire, simmering,
still fresh even at night.

You who know all about poetry,
tell me,
do you know what rasam is?
Forgive me,
I don't know any poetry.
...

4.
A SONG FOR SHIVA AS SHE GIVES HIM A BATH

Having sprinkled some holy water
over the head of the tramp
of the three worlds
Gowri took Shiva to his bath.

Seating the three-eyed one
lovingly on a tripod,
seemingly concerned at his fatigue
at having travelled the three worlds,
she flicked off a speck of dust.
Holding back her grief,
although she knew the street
and the house from which the dust had come,
she took Nataraja to his bath.
"How was the chase?" she asked pointedly.

"Here, a pot of water for Ganga's birth,
Here, one for the Manikarnika pool,
A pot each for every one of the rivers
you have been in, and here, the last one,
filled with my perennial rage. . . ."

When a teardrop fell
to mix with water making it boiling hot,
Shiva cried out, breaking into a sweat,
"What do you think I am?
When you aren't there, I'm a monk, remember,"
"Where do I figure in your list of girls,
O God, to hear this?" she asked and pinched him
gently, washing him.

Scrubbing the monk's body of ash,
she looked at him. Gently rubbing him dry,
she offered him the cushion of her thighs
and whispered an appeal. "O my Shiva,
recall all the rivers you have known
and sleep, my lord."

Under the silken words
the hunter's heart,
having conquered the world's poison,
was like a light pleasure-boat,
and the boat took him away,
far far away, from Gowri.

It was nothing new, this marvel
of Shiva being there
and not being there.
She sat without fretting, controlling
her anguish. Though tender,
our Gowri is a proud, proud girl.

When Ishwara the monk comes back
from his wanderings,
Gowri calls him for his bath.
Rubbing his body with medicinal oil
and washing the evil eyes that have fallen upon him
she gives the fever-wracked tramp
a decoction of kiratha twigs.
...

5.
A Song For Shiva As She Gives Him A Bath

Having sprinkled some holy water
over the head of the tramp
of the three worlds
Gowri took Shiva to his bath.
...

6.
SHE, HE AND LANGUAGE

She said, hunger, thirst.
He said, eat well, drink.
She wept.
He smiled.

The other day he said, window,
not door as she'd imagined.
Wall, he said.
She thought it was space -
was it because all is revealed
when a wall breaks?

She prepared his favourite payasam
What he ate was rayatham.

Why is everything so topsy-turvy?

Was there no air between them,
and so no waves either?
Heads down, words in water
send out a forlorn cry.

It was then that suicide was mentioned.
What did he say?
He found it funny, didn't he?

It happens sometimes.
The sea isn't the sea.
What one assumes to be the shore
is the mere hump of fish-back.

You say something
Another meaning unfolds.
The banter of words, you know.

She: Be honest and tell me,
Which one of us is more insane?
He: What did you say?
Which one wishes to die first?
She: It's hot. Shall I open the window for some air?
He: What? Hunger, thirst?
...

7.
My Mother's Sari

There, in the wooden box
my mother’s sari, enveloped in white muslin,
with mothballs
...

8.
She, He And Language

She said, hunger, thirst.
He said, eat well, drink.
She wept.
He smiled.
...

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