Long Distance Call
We have moved from Chennai to Delhi,
you and I, you 4, not a word
of Hindi you have spoken, ever. On a walk
around the colony, we meet my colleague
and her son. Beta hello karo, she says
you look at me, your face
a question mark, Isey hello karna nahin aata?
Shake hands with him, I whisper and you catch on.
We wait for the DTC bus no. 520 and army
trucks rumble on, you wave
at the men in fatigues and say,
Amma, just like Bosnia on BBC, no?
I drop you at the daycare at 9 and worry
at work until 5. Evenings, we are at the ramshackle
swings in the colony you, building
a conversation bridging Tamil,
Hindi, English and Haryanvi,
making friends at a speed I envy.
One day, you tell the press wala’s daughter
Achha, aaj muffler pehenke aayi ho! I write
about it in my next letter, your Appa can’t believe it.
Once every week we go to the phone booth
in the Sector 6 market at 9 pm, to make long
distance calls at half rate on the patchy phone
line with your Appa in Chennai. I ask
him about his job search in Delhi, my fingers crossed.
This RK Puram is nice, you declare approvingly,
and you know what Appa,
here all annas are bhaiyas, and akkas are didis
did you know?
We laugh heartily and I hold back
tears of I don’t know what.
On days like this
alone in a house full of people
for the sunrays peeping into
my kitchen to envelop
me in a hug, like you used to,
Mann anand anand chhayo, mityo gagan andhkaar,
Raag Ahir bhairav sets the tone for the day, my
tub of cream full, thawed overnight,
wants to become butter.
The blades of my electric whisk plunge
headlong into a sea of cream,
I’m eight, it’s mid-morning in your kitchen
window a green rectangle
of leafy cul-de-sac in downtown Chembur
sunrays make a pattern on the yoghurt in your urn
you are sitting on the floor, cross-legged, like
you own the place,
your insecurities tucked invisible among
the hundred folds
of nine-yard cotton draped over your petite frame
your crimson kumkum third eye defying gravity,
nose pins flashing fire,
hands working the wooden churn
dancing to your tune, clockwise,
then anti-clockwise, swish-swish….
There’s just you and
Slowly, ivory globules float
to the surface, gathering
mass, until they are creamy icebergs; your fingers
swoop down, deftly roll them into
glistening blob of butter.
By now, my whisk has done its job, there’s butter where blades
meet cream, and I collect it like you taught me how.
But when did slow swish become the whirr
of maniacal, hurried chore?
What do I do with all the time I have saved?
Your marriage sighed between eight
gap between paydays, marks
bestowed by husband, carefully hidden,
your body a vessel
to contain his rage against the world.
Your sunny voice created a world
of kings and queens, good and bad,
we soaked up with ghee-coated balls of
dal rice, then curd rice spiked with
Chidambaram brinjal gothsu.
You had it all sorted.
Or, did you?
Sudha Chandrashekar is a writer and French teacher living in New Delhi. Her poems have appeared in The Bengaluru Review and her personal essay has appeared in The Punch Magazine.