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2 poems by Pervin Saket

Slum Roots at Cuffe Parade, Mumbai

Each year we extend, foot-by-crawling-foot,

While their skyscrapers prod the clouds

Our tarpaulin roofs expand onto what they must call the beach

Not the kind of coast they could powerwalk on

Just enough sand for our nets to rest

Between bouts of catching their dinners

Which they will pick at along with dwarfed carrots

Baby potatoes, diced mushrooms

And all things small.

Roots and branches know to grow together

In an intuitive harmony; each nucleus is aware

The branches can only rise as high

As the roots are wide. The roots inhale from

The soil, and pass along assorted nutrients

Through air-conditioned Otis columns

Of piped music and automated doors-are-closing

While those branches make green, reaching for the sun

Sprouting flower and fruit.

Sometimes a creeper will wind its way

Along that concrete trunk, and as long as

It is obliging, with quiescent leaves and a joke

Of a spine, it may make its way to the first branch

And wrap itself around a subsidiary

Or a daughter. They’ll hire then, the exterminator

From amongst our neighbours and sell the daughter

A visa to lands where skyscrapers sprout without

These upstart roots.

They say we blot their sea, blot their pavements

We say they block the sun, block the moon.

But the stars in their radial generosity

Glint above us all, and we drink this hope by the pint

So we may sleep; we cannot afford to imagine

That in the worlds those stars are the suns of,

Another skyscraper might be

Blocking out another sky.


Madam of 3-B, Krishna Kunj

There is an unswept corner in all our homes

A shifting memorial constructed from skin flakes,

Grime, split ends or biscuit crumbs

Never desecrated by phenyl or vacuum cleaners

A footnote helpfully warning us that

Our rangolis are drawn with the soot of their burnt fingers

And the acid of waiting stomachs.

My particular hunted walks in at 8 every morning

Hair hastily coiled together, saree tucked high

Into her waist; the swish of cloth around ankles

Is a luxury reserved for us madams.

She has twelve years and four children over me

But calls me ‘didi’, a skewed promotion –

Credit cards and heels mutating into seniority.

She knows subversion though; sometimes as she sings

Her catalogue of complaints against drunken husbands

Ungrateful sons, rebellious daughters, or worse –

Rebellious daughters-in-law – in that avalanche

Of the cruel, the petty, the immoral and the vicious,

She leaves out one name: mine.

She knows I hear it. She looks up from her scrubbing.

I bustle then in exaggerated urgency

The laundry needs folding right away, and

I’m expecting a call so keep an eye on the milk, and

Has the dal come to its third boil? But her measured

Bucolic tongue holds me prisoner, her pallu turns lasso

My bangles mutate into golden handcuffs

That will only be unlocked by her lighthearted shrug.

She wears the scars of our histories like birthmarks

Half-aware, half-ignoring the zero-cancellation policy

She’s inherited, even as she dusts and rearranges

Smiling portraits that assert my pedigree

And I know I’m yet another sequel in this chain

That must continue because it is too inconvenient

to break. I offer her leftover cake.

She drops my largesse into a disposable box

So her children may distribute it later

And asks if there’s egg in it (there is)

Then massages my temples, rebuffing a crawling headache

Working her way to my flushed forehead

Pinching my eyebrows, her fingers softened

And hardened, by soap and water, soap and women.

Just as the hypnosis of her kneading washes over me,

I see the memento: a knot of hair swirling jauntily

Over a corner peppered with dust

I exhale and unsee. After all, I reason,

Those soft hands now at my neck,

It’s not the first time I’ve looked

And then looked away.

Pervin Saket is the author of the novel ‘Urmila’ and of a collection of poetry ‘A Tinge of Turmeric’. Her novel has been adapted for the stage, featuring classical Indian dance forms of Kathak, Bharatnatyam and Odissi. Her work has been featured in ‘The Indian Quarterly’, ‘The Joao-Roque Literary Journal’, ‘Paris Lit Up’, ‘Borderless Journal’, ‘The Madras Courier’, ‘Cold Noon’, ‘Breaking the Bow’ and others. She is co-founder of the annual Dum Pukht Writers’ Workshop held at Pondicherry, India.


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