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Arriving Shortly by K Srilata

Art by Raja Ravi Varma

Arriving Shortly

When amma came

to New York city,

she wore unfashionably cut

salwar kurtas,

mostly in beige,

so as to blend in,

her body

a puzzle that was missing a piece -

the many sarees

she had left behind:

that peacock blue


that nondescript nylon in which she had raised

and survived me,

the stiff chikan saree

that had once held her up at work.

When amma came to

New York city,

an Indian friend

who swore by black

and leather,

remarked in a stage whisper,

“This is New York, you know –

not Madras.

Does she realise?”

Ten years later,

transiting through L.A airport

I find amma

all over again

in the uncles and aunties

who shuffle past the Air India counter

in their uneasily worn, unisex Bata sneakers,

suddenly brown in a white space,

louder than ever in their linguistic unease

as they look for quarters and payphones.

I catch the edge of amma’s saree

sticking out

like a malnourished fox’s tail

from underneath

some other woman’s sweater

meant really for Madras’ gentle Decembers.

About the poet:

A writer in residence at Sangam house, India, Yeonhui Art space, Seoul and the University of Stirling, Scotland, K Srilata has taught Creative Writing at IIT Madras. She co-curates the CMI Arts Initiative and writing residency. Her novel Table for Four (Penguin, India) was long listed in 2009 for the Man Asian literary prize. Srilata is the editor of the anthologies The Rapids of a Great River: The Penguin Book of Tamil Poetry, Short Fiction from South India (OUP), All the Worlds Between: A Collaborative Poetry Project Between India and Ireland (Yoda), Lifescapes: Interviews with Contemporary Women Writers from Tamilnadu (Women Unlimited) and The Other Half of the Coconut: Women Writing Self-Respect History (Zubaan). Her poetry collections include The Unmistakable Presence of Absent Humans, Bookmarking the Oasis, Writing Octopus, Arriving Shortly and Seablue Child. Her multi-genre anthology on the disability experience titled is forthcoming from Amazon/Westland later this year. She is currently working on a series of poems based on the Mahabharata.


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