Showing posts with label The Old Country. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Old Country. Show all posts

Thursday, April 22, 2021

unsee, undo

The urn, a yearning
pressed into bruise
into battle

I know this word, I 
mouthed it until I 
learned its taste 

Save me;  save my 
past--words, bring 
me to rest

My heart breaks and breaks and breaks: 

Monday, April 19, 2021

please distract me

I found some late hellebores and early daisies by the pond to distract me... Then work with students took up the rest of the day.

My social media is heartbreaking right now, with Indian friends looking for leads on plasma, drugs, ventilators, hospital beds... 

My sister and I were wondering if our parents should get tested--I was worried about further exposure, but apparently there are teams that do home visits. 

Late (very late) last night, a bookclub friend posted that their little one had broken their arm and that they were headed to the E.R. Big A was working in the ED, so I checked with him and gave them his work cell.  This morning when I thanked Big A, I told him that when he's away, working nights, taking care of populations usually under-cared for, I feel I'm doing something good for the world too (although all I'm actually doing is wandering around insomniac and doomscrolling). 

Friday, April 02, 2021

Daffodils Etc.

It's spring in England, and my mother visits,
So there is her readiness in colonial desire 
like urgent rain--where squandered things 
find great reception. Electronic billboards! 
Gargoyles in Oxford! Museums are free!
Hunger satisfies easy when you're eager.

Until one day at the grocery checkout she sees
daffodils--papery, plastic-wrapped, "solitary"
not a "never-ending line," "dancing," or "gay."
And Amma--at least a third-generation learner 
of Wordsworth's praise--is first silent in disdain,
her outstretched words rebound as if swindled:
"This? This is what he made such a fuss about?"

In her contempt, I hear comparisons--to the
languor of unkempt jasmine, lotus, plumeria... 
the warm, unlocked softnesses of oleanders, 
parijaths, ixoras... In her derision there hides 
history's list of pain, the sharp bite of the ruler 
when she couldn't say "jocund" right (at least).
And Babu: fish and chips were disappointing too.


I first wrote about Amma's reaction here--so many years ago.

Picture is from Daffodil Hill at the Radiology Gardens earlier this week; they seem to have been bigger this time last year?

Friday, March 05, 2021

Very Sari

I wore a sari to work yesterday because I felt festive + I want to normalize saris and the difference they embody on my PWI campus. It was one of the intentions I had shared at the beginning of the term with my WGSS class, so when I showed up all floaty and colorful, they seemed quite happy and proud for me. 

I may have tied it too high ("where's the flood?"--the snarks at my high school might have asked), but for the most part, I was comfortable and didn't trip. The tripping thing has been one of my most frequent excuses, so I had to re-evaluate why I don't wear saris to work. 

Other Indian aunties are wearing saris to everything from construction jobs to yoga to designing spacecraft. Why don't I?  I really do think it's because all the ones I have are gifts and meant for festivities and too shiny or drippy with zari/fake pearls/pompoms/gems/stonework. I need a sari wardrobe for work--but I feel weird buying stuff for myself so soon after a day when I got so many presents.

This one, BTW, is a 'house sari' discard from one of my mom's visits. In fact, it was from her first visit when At was a newborn, so it's nearly 22 years old. Very nearly vintage. Wild. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Concise Bharatha

This isn't my birthplace and I am 

louder for my heart is misplaced;

I dwindle but first I do no harm.

Then I turn calm, you must come 

too--time shrugs on, on its own. 


He hugs the walls when he walks

my sister says of our dad.

We should have bars in the shower 

my husband says of my dad.

I think of my dad--

mightiest of his four brothers

how he sat all his brothers on his 

meaty biceps--or was that Bhima

also second-born--I'm confused

by the words rolling in my mouth.


It's easy to break, ask water--what's 

next in the shadow of time's coming.

Of first learning to trust every day's 

ordinary dance, stepping to calm, 

to harm; saying: I'll take it.



My father actually has six brothers, but my youngest uncle is seventeen years younger than dad and so the five older brothers were routinely referred to as the Pandavas in dad's childhood. Dad, although affected by polio as toddler, was somehow also the strongest and sportiest brother--captain of several teams in both school and college. 

I routinely confused stories about dad and Bhima when I was a kid. Still do. I don't know if seating all the brothers on his arms was a dad thing, a Bhima thing, or a dad thing inspired by Bhima... and I'm not going to try to find out. Naturally, I was shaken when my sister told me this morning how weakened he's become because he looks not very different in photos and when we video chat. 

The Mahabharatha because it is so long (the longest!) and has so many embedded frametales sometimes works on me as a reminder of how life is transient. Lives get lost in that huge narrative, and somehow recognizing individual insignificance is calming? Here, I'm reaching for an abridged version of that fatalistic calm.

Distance is a huge in the pandemic, and I yearn to see everyone 'back home' knowing it may not happen for months or even this year. So the other part of what I was trying to do was to call back to the old country "Bharat/Bharatha."

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Pongal 2021

Most years we're already back at school before Pongal comes around and the usual celebration is something hurried when the sun is no longer high in the sky.  

This year, we got to celebrate in the sunshine and make our offering at a reasonable daytime hour, with fragrant narcissus and paperwhites rounding out the pongal rice and jaggery laddu on the offering tray. To the millenary vedic sun salutation sloka*, which I was translating for the kids as I went, I added a prayer for enough Vit. D to help us through the pandemic. 

Cousin P had sent the cousin groupchat a set of truly lovely pics of their traditional celebration replete with sugarcane, outdoor hearth, and silk-clad kids. So I sent this pic back to balance things out. 

Not pictured: The very un-Pongal looking kids, one in the Phoebe Bridgers limited edition Punisher sweater they got from their older sib and the other human kid in the pink Mean Girls/Karl Marx mashup tee I gave them.

*Japakusuma Samkaasham Kashyapeyam Mahadhyuthim,

Tamorim Sarva Paapagnam Pranathosmi Divakaram

[You radiant as the Japa flower, heir of Kashyapa, the creator of days

destroy my darkness and all corruption I pray to you, O Sun.]

Monday, December 14, 2020

Through my Head

My children's love passes right through me

(like an arrow, like a bullet)

My parents' love steeps all through me

(like a tantrum, like a blush).

I fear death; there are deaths I fear more:

My deaf father sleeps deep

through knocking, my mother and sister 


My tired children sleep past the blare 

of smoke alarms, heavy

I wonder if I can shake them awake

like a pair of dead batteries.

But the world does its singing, then

my body curls like smoke

plummets, coaxes with folded hands

draws doors in heartache.

So let me tell you how I scan the dates 

of people's lives, guessing--from 

the headlines of their last year--if death 

might have felt like a blessing.


Sunday, December 13, 2020

Tiny Notes

The tiny tree went up this weekend--powered 95% by At and Nu. 


While I was writing that poem about Chelli's moving day yesterday, I was trying to make the verses look like the many roofs we've been under, but it actually looks like a tree too!

Also, as she said after she read that poem, I completed it "so fast!" High praise indeed! 


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Moving Day 8000 Miles Away

8000 miles away

my sister is moving  

her furniture is being taken apart now

it will be put back together again, very soon.

She remembers how I arrived at her 

house in Delhi the week before she did,

how I cut my hand open unpacking boxes, how 

I made that a joke about my rakta dan--"blood sacrifice." 

I don't remember this story. But 

she giggles and so then I giggle and then 

we tell each other how much we love each other. 

When will we see each other again? (There aren't even plans.)

And I want to say: Take a break! 

Need to ask: Are you tired? Is that heavy?

But I look at the telephone; I just... miss you. 

There's more air than we can breathe between us.

Exile now feels like breaking--

like an earthquake--inside out, fragile 

as though an eggshell holding hatchlings,

a coming to--on the other side of worldliness.

There are stones in my throat all day

so I stumble. I speak slowly as though in 

a foreign language (all language feels foreign,

cannot say what I feel, clots like moonlight in my brain).

I just parrot from poems I read:

"Art thou weary? Art thou weary?" I dream you 

give the movers the address, but Bangalore traffic sounds

harmonize it into my name, send it--back in a whisper to you.


Friday, December 04, 2020


Nothing much today. Freaking out a bit about work and writing a rec letter for a colleague, so I procrastinated by doing a ton of things unrelated to work like checking on the delivery dates of my Bookshop orders. I'm trying to find the zen of ordering and waiting for the order while muttering a mantra about how I'm not contributing to Amazon Inc. I did get the proofs of an article sent back to the eds. Yay, me!

It's the 4th, a.k.a. in these parts as my "Boss Day" =  a round of Sansu Sushi delivery with the fam and then falling in love with this song in a language I don't speak.

I want to record that I'm feeling well rested these days despite my polyphasic patterns/sleeping disability. Also: I've managed to delay my health followup by almost ten months. I'm alive, so it can't be anything too serious, right? Alright then...

Friday, November 13, 2020

The stuff of horror

Tomorrow is Diwali and I want to get this down in the hope that I will be able to set it aside for a little bit. I've been carrying it around since yesterday when I read a thread on Mona Eltahawy's Twitter (since then, I've seen a few news outlets calling it the "Kashmore Tragedy"). The details are so horrific I can't say them out loud without choking and I don't really think I could pass it on to anyone else.  

But the story keeps going around in a loop in my head, knotting now and then around the old nodes: the precarity of being a single mother; how difficult it is to love and grow a girl child in this fucking patriarchal world; the horror of captivity and unending rape; lives where people move across the country for a job that pays about 250 dollars; knowing people are out there victim-blaming--saying things like 'bad choices' and 'where is the father?'; what care and support are available to the mother and child; why support wasn't available to them previously; the courage it took for the mother to go to the police instead of prolonging the cycle; if the police treated her with respect; the bravery and compassion of the ASI (assistant sub inspector?) using his wife and daughter as decoys to catch the rapists; were the ASI's wife and daughter given a choice in the matter; worried for the ASI and his family now that his name and likeness are all over media; knowing there's so much more abuse I'll never even know from within safe spaces in families, communities, and professional + emergency services. Why are so many men/humans such trash? 

On the Enby parenting group, one parent recently asked what our own lives might have looked like if we had the freedom of gender choice we support for our children. I know I've always wished for genderlessness, especially in professional settings. And in so many other settings, I'd have loved the possibility of having what Wanda Sykes calls a "detachable pussy."

Tuesday, October 27, 2020



Yesterday's Vijaya Dashami offering was an almond and apricot honey cake. (All gone!)

Dussehra is one of the many opportunities to renew and reset in the Hindu annual calendar. And I spent yesterday hopeful for all kinds of pandemic and election magic.

Today I quietly panicked in the car on my way home from teaching and made a list of things we'll need to stock up on. (Not because I anticipate shortages, but I DO NOT WANT to be out there.)

Sunday, August 16, 2020


Walk-and-talks with At and Nu (frequently up and down our driveway) are full of insights, jokes, and discoveries, but I guess we didn't expect actual physical discoveries like this mossy rock just off the path.  Was it always here? How did we not see it?

Here on the magic rock, is my little woodland Nu dappled in sunlight and lost in thought (they're very into plague doctor philosophy and aesthetics right now).

Another discovery: the story "Amma" by Sindya Bhanoo in Granta, not just set in my hometown of Chennai, but IN MY SCHOOL! OMG.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Mid-August Notes

It's India's Independence Day and today's dinner is supposed to be reminiscent of the flag (maybe you have to squint a little bit?). I'm not a fan of the ethnostate India is under Modi, and I miss-miss-miss old-style India-day "unity in diversity" celebrations.

It was Fall term prep all day over here. Also, locking down meetings next week in my calendar helped--instead of holding hazy, all-day items in my head, I now have specific times and that's doing wonders for my general sense of preparedness and well being. 

I kept getting adorable texts all morning from bestie KB and mock called her out for procrastinating via text message. Then I went off on a tangent myself and did some editor-stuff for the current issue of Jaggery (needed to be done, but not right now). At least it got done?  I did a ton of other more normal procrastination as well, putting stuff in various online shopping carts and re-watching a few eps of Veep.

Monday, August 10, 2020


It was in Chennai that grandmother first died, many years ago
so it's surprising she is here today, her words pleating
back and forth with mine

Wanting ghee-fried bakery bread topped with three sugars
Walking slow slow as though ready to change 
her destination at any time

Then lullabies are on the radio; she sings to her five babies 
(and the infant son who came and went
so quick after my mother).

In her lap, my toddler mother had tried to console her, said: 
"Don’t cry mama, or see--all your face powder  
will wash away

and oh, everyone will know your skin is as black as Kali's."
A hand on the cheek is tender, yet cousin to a slap,
darkened heads fold into armpits like birds.

Skies blur red as if we break open every night--they're lost 
in other stories, arguments--I'll listen for a while, 
before I can open my eyes.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Round and Round

The day began with what we thought looked like a sky smile (you can see it better if you kinda squint a little like we used to have to in the olden times with magic eye pictures).

Lots of work through the day including the hard work of discussing Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility with colleagues at my PWI.

I ended the day by making really, really pretty bowls of poke for dinner. It was my 'Boss Day' so the kids helped extra, and shelled all the edamame, grated the veggies, and shredded the nori. All this despite being tired (Nu) and stressed (At--from his thesis). So much love.

We have been watching two eps of Avatar: The Last Airbender (free on Netflix RN) after dinner--like it's a prescription. I've watched the show passively before--when At used to catch eps out of order on Nickelodeon in the oughts and then again when Nu rediscovered it via At's DVDs a few years ago. But this is really my first time paying attention to the dialogue.What a sweet show! And apparently we're not the only ones taking solace in this classic in these times of strange and change.  (Also, the kids seem to get a kick out of finding out the sanskrit origins of terms like "Agni Ki" and "Bumi" from me.) 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

"Indian Enby Menarche Celebration"

Perhaps there was something portentous about the red lilies Nu planted this week... we celebrated with the red velvet cake they decided was appropriate. Big A made them a card with a "Congratulations" followed by a giant period and we all thought that was hilarious--that morning's laughter was definitely a celebration. But the South Indian in me needed to celebrate Nu more.

I googled "Indian Enby Menarche Celebration" and got nothing. My own menarche was marked by a wedding-level gala replete with catering and professional videographer--but it was too focused on "womanhood and fertility." (It wasn't as lavish as this video I found online, but quite close!)

So we did things our way. We got grandparents and aunts on video calls and read Nu a dedication that focused on their maturity, strength... their ability to reinvent themselves. We kept some elements of the traditional ceremony--anointing with turmeric but connecting its deep roots and healing capabilities with family; playing Carnatic music, but especially Bharati's song about his "kannama" hoping Nu would appreciate the fluidity with which he uses this feminine form of endearment for Lord Krishna. At brewed them a pot of spearmint from his own veggie plot, Grandma S made them a slideshow, the Bangalore grandparents and A Pinni beamed the whole time, N Pinni read her Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise."

Nu got the traditional trays of offerings (fruit, pampering products, books, and a ton of girlie presents), and we added rainbow-themed sandals, bag, visor, and sweetened the deal further with unlimited screen time for the rest of the day.  I think the pictures do a good job of demonstrating my earnestness and Nu's own enjoyment in all the ceremonial love. 😍 😍 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Sitting Witness

Although my dad is more likely to read the sports section of a newspaper than pick up a book of poetry, his school experience of the Tamil poet Subramania Bharati would get him so fired up that he'd declaim "Thani oru manithanakku unavu illayenil intha jagaththinai azhithiduvom" frequently. So I'm no stranger to Bharati's radical outrage, the threat/aspiration to burn the whole world down if even one person is harmed. 

 I can mourn the horrific murders in the midst of this pandemic of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd and don't find myself distracted by other actions a grieving people may undertake. But in case anyone hears it, thinks it, or needs it--here is a lovely primer of "How to respond to 'riots never solve anything.'"

And please donate, if you can. Every one of us with a credit card in this family (At, Big A, I) have donated independently of each other this time.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Weight

This picture accompanied that awful story about India's sudden 21-day lockdown and the thousands of migrant workers who had to set off on foot for their "homes" hundreds of miles away as public transport had been halted.

And I look at that small child (center, front) carrying the toddler nearly half her size, and I look at the instinctive half-smile of the child carrying the large sack on his head, and I don't even know what to do.

Where are they going? Where are we going? What can I do? Everything feels really *heavy* right now.