Writer, poet and photographer Suchi Govindarajan lives in Bengaluru, India. Her poetry has appeared in publications ranging from IceFloe Press and Cordite Poetry Review to perhappened magazine and Usawa Literary Review. Her poems have also been included in two anthologies. Poetry is Suchi's first love – fiction is her newest.
Of blood and war
The first time it happens, you are barely twelve.
So much blood must mean either wound or war,
so you run to your mother and ask if you are dying.
This is not death, she says, this is existence —
just the basic bloodshed of being woman.
There will be a celebration next week, she says
with silks and jaggery, turmeric and gold.
But don't be swayed by such fleeting love;
the real gift is an unwritten book,
stitched with rope, bound with tradition,
its pages ornate and yet so sharp with rules,
they only slice the fingers of women.
Because you are a child, you take this gift,
and you come to believe in this unquestioning dark,
the flowers that will wilt, the milk that will spoil,
the men and other fragile beings that will take ill.
Everything, she says, that can be defiled by you.
Last April you helped your aunt make mango pickles.
This month, even your touch will spoil them
— all that careful soaking in brine and spice
— all that ageing in the home's coldest corners
where you will now sit for days every month,
muffling the many mouths of your pain.
You cannot go to temples now, says your mother.
You cannot worship the goddess I named you after.
You are still a child, she says, but you are enough woman
You are still a child, but you are already too much woman
for anyone to bear, not the men, not the priests.
They must pray to save all their gods from you.
You told me once
that he loved you
You told me once that he loved you because you were simple.
I wondered then if he had seen your bookshelf or your bathroom.
Did he see that small callus at the base of your palm?
Does he know the weight of your gaze as you look out the window?
Even on cold nights, you never cover your feet with a blanket,
yet you show me these socks he bought for you to wear.
They are the exact shade of purple that you hate and call violet.
You told me once that he loved you even if you weren't beautiful.
I wondered then if he had seen you speak about justice or poetry.
Has he seen how you hesitate before you burst into laughter?
Does he know you have your grandfather's hooded eyes?
You told me once, under the yellow light of a station,
of your surprise at his love and his existence.
It was a windy night, your wild hair was held in a bun.
You were wearing a sweater that billowed like a storm.
You told me then you would try and love him back.
I smiled, and felt a new grief in my limbs.
My teacher told me my poems
should be more current,
should celebrate things in the news
like the breaking of sports records,
like the eradication of diseases,
new machines in our libraries,
or how a child, just six years old,
sang like he was born of birds.
Don't just write about flowers
he said, or philosophy
or these clouds of unrequited love
that billow about your youth.
Until we broke the mosque,
I did not follow his advice.
Until then, nothing in the world
had touched my cocooned life:
I had touched nothing in the world.
But now I felt like it was my
chariot wheels that crayoned
dried blood into the tar.
I watched my parents turn
to wolves at orange moons,
cheering for men with pickaxes,
waving their fists at a box
they could not turn off.
But when I went to my teacher
my words now a raw torment
my pen now moving hard enough
to leave round bruises on
the page behind
(at last, I thought, a poem he would praise)
he grew narrow and cold.
In a play last year,
he had painted my face blue,
draped me in shawls of
gold and Raamar green.
I had broken a bow
Now he whispered mantrams
to protect his gods,
and flung my poem back
and told me to stick to
love and clouds and flowers.
Something that would
dissolve and disperse easily.
Something that would not leave
even on the back of a page.