Village Women Sing

shaaluk-gatherer

in water, she can dream.

so she lines the lilies with

parchment palms, and

wants to be breeze someday

when she plucks the stalks in

tender regret, fish-flecks

swirling in red and blue

witness a sigh

nutmeg feet mired in mud,

hers too, is the sigh of a shaaluk —

she knows her time in water is up.

shaaluk: the Bangla word for pink or red water lilies (Nymphaea rubra) in India.

henna-drawing

women in sky blue, parrot green shalwars

stifle their laughter, chalk out

henna-roses on her palm

they painted the same labyrinths

on her mother once, and her

grandmother…

a bundle in yellow, the dulhan, too

cannot find her way through

barbed brown mazes

so she prepares to get lost.

henna: A dye prepared from the plant Lawsonia inermis, also known as the henna tree. Henna can also refer to the temporary body art resulting from the staining of the skin from the dyes

shalwar kameez is a traditional combination dress worn by women, and in some regions by men, in South Asia, and Central Asia. Shalwars are trousers which are atypically wide at the waist but narrow to a cuffed bottom. [Source: Wikipedia]

dulhan: The Hindi word for bride

lorii

she finds herself in mustard oil under the Sun.

… in suppleness of baby feet,

milky scents of downy heads …

they all are her tenderness.

in afternoons, she dusts off baby power

from shoulders, sings —

after children drift to sleep, she

still keeps singing

this time for herself —

a secret ditty, a mutiny.

lorii: The Hindi word for lullaby.

milk and sesame

she has been marked pink, yellow, crimson, blue

now is the age of milk and sesame, they say.

her hair is pruned like rabid sheep-fleece

till her head swells in a flaky full-moon

she tries to grieve in earnest

turns in her mouth her marriage pledge -

‘That heart of thine shall be mine,

And this heart of mine shall be thine.’*

her litany of love is two bodies

bound on a stiff charpoy** —

neither of which she knew

neither of which she loved

so she marks one with sandalwood,

and wraps both of them in white

she would not speak anymore, she decides.

*Max Muller’s translation of the Hindu marriage pledge: ‘यदेतद्धृदयं तव तदस्तु हृदयं मम । यदिदं हृदयं मम तदस्तु हृदयं तव ॥’ [Source: Chandogya Brahmana]

** From Hindi-Urdu चारपाई (chārpāī). A traditional bedstead in India, consisting of a wooden frame bordering a set of knotted ropes. [Source: Wiktionary]

antyeshti

what remained of her was a travesty.

beyond mud, henna, lullaby —

a bleached widow with whiffs of

ash, blank elaichi beads

they lather the lump with

shlokas and jasmine, honey and yoghurt

carry it with the glimmer of relief

butchers bear when unruly lambs

come out split with good meat

the corpse spits and sings in fire

she longs to hold a shaaluk flower.

antyeṣhṭi (अन्त्येष्टि) is a composite Sanskrit word of antya and iṣṭi, which respectively mean “last” and “sacrifice”. Together, the word means the “last sacrifice”. [Source: Wikipedia]

elaichi: From Hindi इलायची (ilāycī). Cardamom [Source: Wiktionary]

shlokas: From Sanskrit श्लोक (śloka). A distich of Sanskrit verse. [Source: Wiktionary]

Originally published in: The Poetry Issue 2022: Village Women Sing — Five Poems (thepunchmagazine.com)

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Ritoshree Chatterjee pursues her undergraduate degree in English literature and struggles to locate herself through writing amidst the chaos.

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