Sunday, July 18, 2010


She would brush away
The unshed tears
And the beads of sweat on her forehead
With calloused fingers
Drown her strangled sobs
Sometimes a black eye
A purple bruise; gaping gashes
In mirthless giggles
And clean the utensils
Mop, broom, dust the house
And wash clothes
Throughout the day

She had two children,
One six and the other just two years old
She’d bring them with her to work
Bare feet
Running nose
Button less shirts
They’d play in dust and mud
The whole day
While she worked

In the evenings
When the sun turned
A huge tomato orange
And dipped down quietly
Into the golden blue waters
She’d catch hold of their arms
One on either side
And walk back home
Through the misty meadows

Nightfall she’d lit a fire
To cook a simple dinner
Feed her children and
Tuck them to bed
And then wait for long hours
For those staggering feet
And muffled knocks on the door
Get ready to be mauled and
Molested like the Mother Earth.

In those shivering winter mornings
She’d boil herself a cup of steaming tea
Before getting down to work
Sometimes bathe in the
Pale autumn sun
With detached distraction on the verandah
In the sizzling summers she’d hit the well
Midday and douse her supple blade of a
Figure in buckets full of cold, sweat water
And in spring she’d enjoy a swing
In the mellow chiffon breeze of
Fragrance and bloom
A swing tied to the old stooped tree
With thick foliage
Her anklet bells would chime with
The soft sway and rhythm of the swing
Her glass bangles jingling merrily

Sometimes she’d hum a tune
A song of her land
Or croon a lullaby to her little one
Under the old tree in muggy afternoons
In between work
And sometimes play with them
In uncontained merriment
But the songs were rare
Very, very rare
So was the play

At dusk while going back home,
She’d call out to maa
“I’ll come tomorrow again, Beeji”
But one day she did not come back
Nether the day next nor the day after
Some said she was no more
Others said she had eloped with
A young stranger
The children bare feet, running nose
Were left alone in dust and mud
The father brought home a new mother
To look after them

Maa was not surprised
She took it in her stride
I’d sometimes think of her
Not sometimes quite often

A knock at the door and I’d imagine
Her on the other side of the threshold
Standing and smiling

When the mangoes drooped down
From the branches
Tired by their own weight
She’d scamper up like the squirrels
And bring down a basketful
For us to empty then and there
Happy juice sliding down the sides
Of the mouth and fingers
Licking them greedily

When the thunders struck
And the rains lashed in heavily
I saw her on the yard
Picking up the clothes off the wire
Her saree billowing in air
Unrestrained strands
Of jet black hair
Dancing in air
With unkempt joy
She was just sixteen or seventeen

But she made a choice
Which we seldom do
As women
A choice between unkind, cruel pain
And comfortable sorrow

I hope she comes back again
To her dirty, neglected children
And embrace them happily
And play with them like before

Till then stilled in time
Resonate the eerie echoes
The tinkle of her anklet bells
The jingle of her glass bangles
Her mirthless worthless giggles.

This poem is based on the true story of our housemaid of my childhood days who was a victim of domestic abuse and violence and had to ultimately flee from her home for survival. Thereafter, she was untraceable. However, varied rumours were rampant which died a natural death in due course of time. I am talking about those times when such incidents were not seen too kindly or sympathetically by our conservative society. She hailed from the desserts and was as beautiful as any other desert girl. I still remember, days would pass by that she would not come to work and suddenly appear one fine morning smiling rosily and appearing positively manhandled. I have not dwelt too deeply into the darker, gloomier parts of her life in these verses as her prankish giggles still echo in my ears even after though many, many years have rolled by.

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