Untouchable- Part 5

today
i heard my mother
fight with the maid
she’s asking for more
than we can afford to pay

our maid looked down,
and whispered about
her alcoholic husband
and her unemployed son
the daughter in law trying
harder and harder everyday
to provide for the grandchildren.

my mother asks me
why does she need to send her grandchildren to private school?
the fees is so high, she says
we could barely afford it.
why is our maid
hoping to get her grandchildren
into the private school we went to?

my mother
reprimands me
when i drink starbucks
but not when i
take a loan
for private school
the more you pay
the more you get back
better jobs, better life.

but my mother
asks my maid
who is begging for a higher wage
why she needs to send
her grandchildren
to private school.
Part 5/7

Untouchable- Part 4

all we are
and all we’ll ever be
is skin and bones,
flesh and blood.

yet,
all we are
and all we’ll ever be
are death threats
and poverty
and food to fleas
and to ants
and to the vultures
of human kind

whatever we’re made of
we will always have
sunshine
and stardust
and moonlight;
the skies
and the earth

and yet,
it’s your skin
that I can’t touch
and if I do,
it’s you that i’m
forced to wash away
from my skin
every day
the offchance
that our skins
touched.

and yet,
it’s your fire
that kindles the flames
in my bones.

Untouchable- Part 3

the smell of chickens
and cows and bulls
hit me as i reach
my grandmother’s house.

she lives alone
with the echoes of her past
haunting her.

her only friend is
the maid who now cooks
mid day meals to support herself.

the maid’s daughter married
an alcoholic to save herself from poverty
but came back running home
when she had a son

All these people
Getting divorces now
Back then we stuck to our spouses
In sickness and in health

My husband had cancer
And I stayed by his bedside
Till his last breath
Taking a sabbatical from work

Kunju ettan taught me
how to pick mangoes
and how to make manga chamandi
with a stone mortar

he taught me to play
catch, and seven stones
and to act for a play he’d written
about forbidden love

he teased me about boys
i was friends with
and girls i wasn’t

he told me to call him kunju
or vaishakh,
because ettan is too formal
i now know why.

he sat a bit away when we were eating
and my grandmother didn’t touch him
he had to throw his leaf elsewhere
and burn it to the ground.

every evening
my mother interrupted me
from our games
and i had to go
to our kollam
and have a bath
to rinse him away from my skin.


Untouchable- Part 2

the first time I see her
she wears a nightie
and stands outside the bedroom
I share with my cousins

she laughs with me
about that word
in my mothertongue
that I mispronounce

she is five years older
but calls me thamburati, m’lady
I have only heard the word in movies
and on tv, in soap-dramas

she tells me about the latest movies
i need to watch with my cousins
rent a jeep, go to the theatre
watch it with your cousins, m’lady.

she reads to me
poetry in my mothertongue
that i can’t be bothered
to learn to read

she reads to me
copies of Balarama
because my cousins refuse to.

she reads to me
from across the barred windows
of the Touchable room
that she cannot enter.

next summer,
i want to meet my new friend
because she reads to me
as no one else does
but she’s gone off to med school
to be a doctor.

only because of reservation
my uncle said, and everyone scoffed.
he forgot that she made his food everyday
before going back to study at home
he forgot that his daughter
watched the touchable TV in her touchable room
while she cleaned the touchable TV with her untouchable hands
and cleaned their touchable plates
at the untouchable well.

when my dad became a doctor
he moved to the big bad city
when she became a doctor
she moved back home
to treat the malices
of the country side
but she could not touch
the malice
of untouchability.

Untouchable- Part 1

bombay
the whispers echo
through the front yard
as I brush my teeth
in front of them.

she’s come from bombay
they whisper with reverence
with a feverish glow in their eyes
and chapped lips parted
a grin directed at me
with their loving, reverential gazes.

eppo ethi? when did You reach?
they ask me
as I rinse
not knowing what to tell them.
my mother taught me not to talk to strangers
but what about strangers from home?

they buy their milk
from our touchable cows
that they take care of
they but their curd
from our touchable vessels
that they wash
they buy rice
from our touchable fields
that they plough.

they thank us
tell us we’ve saved their lives
by letting their children
in our touchable schools
with their untouchable money
that we paid them
for cleaning
our touchable cows
our touchable vessels
our touchable cars
our touchable house
our touchable kitchens
with their untouchable hands

Bombay
they whisper
an unviable dream
(for them)
that came true
(for me)
because they cleaned me
with their untouchable dirtyhands
when I was born
when I was dirty

they buy the milk
and empty the vessel
clean it up
and push it away
to the touchable side
and go back
to protecting
and feeding
our touchable cows
with their untouchable hands
This week, I’m going to publish a series on Untouchability in India. Here’s Part 1/7. 

It’s of course just the way I’ve seen it around me and nothing concrete/universal. 

The Girl with the Square Glasses

Her dark kohl eyes
Have sunshine and stardust in them
And when she smiles,
Diamonds falter.

Her innocence radiates from her tongue
Everytime she rolls out a word
Long legs, short skirts
Laughing with the boys like she’s one of them

Words of worship for that one fictional hero
Distributing chocolates on his birthday
Broken up with her boyfriend
The day I left her behind.

See her photographs with a hundred likes
And her funny status updates everyone can relate to
Her ideas, her wisdom, her humor, her isms
Growing up into a wonderful woman.

The girl with the square glasses
With her good girl faith and her tight little skirt
Her long, shiny hair and her hot red lips
Reminding you of your imperfect life.

It was, but, a month ago
When you swore it was a joke
When you saw her status update
And a picture with mehandi
Till you saw the video
You didn’t believe it was true.
But the cheesy song and the congratulations posts
Took you out of your reverie.

Engaged to be married, she says
Happy to be his soon-to-be wife.
Photographs after photographs pour in
And the cheesy video of an orchestrated act
Chokes you a bit. With disgust, you’re sure
Who does that in front of family and guests?

Unsure of what to think
A quick phone call and a panic attack later
You’re sure you’ve heard the truth
Not pregnant, not forced,
At twenty she’s tying the knott.

You think back to seven years ago
Eighth grade, her first boyfriend
Like Romeo and Juliet-from fighting schools
An affair for all of you to remember
When they broke up over the telephone and she cried for a month about him

You remember your school plays
Your basketball games, and cellophane crafts
Your pyjama parties with make believe tea
And your love for that popular TV show
Which paired characters with your and your crush’s names.

You think back to your grand plans of world tours
And living together as roommates,
Because you can cook and she can clean
The idea of growing up improbable
For an infinitely long time.

I live in Denial

My lips curl in an involuntary curve
As my phone blinks to reveal your name
My heart glows a warm fire
As you write me a beautiful letter
In a hot summer afternoon, I live in denial,
As you draw me to you, inch after inch

As we tread softly, and slowly through
Word after word, universe after universe
And dream after dream, plan after plan
And as it becomes clear that we are a team
I live in denial, as you fill me with joy unbound
And leave me hoping for a happy forever

All the bright places we wander through
Dim out the monsters within us,
And the darkness that engulfed our past
And threatens to endanger our future
I live in denial about where it all starts
The potential of a you and me, and a here and now unrecognized.

As we preach about the phases of the human mind
And the beauty of the human kind
As we laugh about the clueless colleagues
And the stupidness of the grand scheme of things,
I live in denial about my feelings
About the impossibility of you and me.