A Poem in Three Sections
by Sutapa Chaudhuri (December 2015)
I’m the formless foetus you aborted, Mother,
when yesterday, at the ultrasonography clinic,
the doctor told you I’d be a girl…your third.
You sank in shame on the low plastic stool;
your guilt-ridden face hidden in your palms.
I could spy father’s fury spewing forth—
his drunk eyes, red in rage, engulfed
in utter incomprehension, his precious virility
at stake. Back at home, amidst the clamorous
din of a slowly disintegrating joint family,
I could hear grandma shrieking abuses—
blaming your inauspicious signs,
keening harshly for a lost line of sons.
My sisters cowered, fists clenched, throats
choked, bemoaning their scanty lives.
Reverberating with the forlorn sighs
of a hundred unborn girls, the damp walls
of the mansion, derelict and dispassionate,
deliberated yet again a pre-meditated
cold-blooded crime committed for centuries.
A strange grating noise echoed eerie
through the silent hallways, haunted
by the ghosts of the past; the present and
the future held in abeyance. Their tearless,
dumbstruck eyes dilated in fear as the bloated
milk-fed infants drowned and floated
in tubs of milk lugged forward in sinister rituals.
Their anguished wails, lonely and muted,
trapped within its impenetrable walls—
the sole witness to a hundred hushed up crimes.
I curled into you then, Mother, tight like a ball
clinging for protection in the tender warmth
of your generous womb, the ruthless world at bay.
They laid me out on a kidney basin instead—
the cold steel scorching my nascent warm body,
my pink fledgling skin all a-wrinkle,
my unformed mouth voiceless,
yet gaping wide, as if trying to shape words;
my lacerated, still-beating heart
merely an unnoticed medical curiosity.
You looked happy then, Mother,
gazing with relief at my momentarily
quivering body, a bloody mass
on a surgical dish: forever homeless, yet
forever haunting the precincts of a spectral love.
I’m the docile daughter who’ll burn again, Mother,
in your kitchen fires. The handsome dowry
that accompanied me so pompously on my marriage,
a meagre nothing to your lustful, greedy eyes.
Soon on some sultry summer afternoon,
the mediocre kerosene stove will burst out,
suddenly, in all consuming irreverent flames.
The wild impudence of its all-taming passion
lopsided and incongruous in the rich décor—
the posh interiors of your modular kitchen,
amidst the next-gen gadgets and sparkling
dinnerware. Absorbed in their dusty files,
forever overburdened with cases of blatant
dowry-deaths, honour-killings, rapes and
molestations, the significance of sudden,
impromptu fires in modern kitchens loses
colour in a mildewed verbosity. Dutifully,
the police thus records yet again, ‘A case
of unprecedented accident at home one
fine summer afternoon while pumping
the out-dated kerosene stove to boil water…’
all culpability cannily camouflaged in florid
records, devious connivers in a complacent crime—
your gleeful faces will belie the deadly lie nonchalant;
no questions asked.
I’m the daughter whose shadowy face
scars the pristine news media and family breakfasts
every morning; whose absent presence haunts
the myriad women commission reports—
agendas-on-priority, talk shows, expert discussions,
opinion polls, mobile apps and ‘support’ groups.
I’m the docile daughter whose defiled body
hangs raped from a tree, the aspiring teenager
left bloody and naked by the lonely roadside,
mauled by a gang of marauding men.
I’m that raped child of five huddling
desperately in a school classroom holding
my tongue and precarious, bloody insides.
I’m the silent mother, whose beloved
daughters are burnt alive for dowry;
whose proud sons sever boldly
the heads of their transgressing sisters,
merely to uphold the fragile family honour.
I’m that girl whose sisters, in silent anguish,
put on an array of costly cosmetics to hide
the daily bruises that darken with pain
their inscrutable kohl lined eyes; whose cousins
vanish without a trace: sold off to the lure
of foreign lucre. I’m that suffering wife whose
malnourished sister dies birthing in some
obscure alley yearning only for a son
to grace her lap. The tormented victim
of a yearly ritual, whose infant girls die
smothered in tubs of milk, cruel lumps
of salt pushed down choking their tiny throats.
I’m the same mother, ancient or young,
sold off, beaten up, defiled and prostituted,
burnt, murdered, swapped or abandoned.
I’m the same woman, the same as you are.
Sutapa Chaudhuri has two poetry collections — Broken Rhapsodies and Touching Nadir. My Lord, My Well-Beloved is a collection of her translations of Rabindranath Tagore’s songs.
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