By Kavita Sarin


Deep within the recesses 
An old, decrepit, iron trunk 
Lie remnants of lives once lived. 

As I reach out 
To pluck with my bare, shaking fingers 
Memories of a past not yet faded, 
An odor of sadness permeates my being.  

A weak, antiquated, yellowing Manila 
Holds reminiscences of lives 
That pervade my senses, 
Memories that imbue my present 
With a meaningfulness it would otherwise not have had.  

Lying enveloped in these obdurate walls, 
Are albums that are proof  
Of vital, breathing human beings, 
A part and parcel of the person I am today. 

I shiver and quake 
As much from excitement 
As from an unknown fear 
And an inconclusive, unexplained anxiety.
Piece by piece, I separate 
People, thoughts and impressions 
Some sepia, some black and white 
And many, many multi-hued 
Bits of my past.  

Each rectangular, four-sided piece 
Holds a myriad of visages, 
Countenances that bring to life 
Aspects that I haven’t yet obliterated 
From mind or heart. 

As I peer into each, I recollect 
Faces as they used to be, 
Features that once were. 
I retrieve from the recesses of 
memory the sharp features 
that have now softened, rounded 
out; Lissome, full-bodied figures 
Now filled out, a little more pulpous, 
Heads full of hair, now greyed or balding. 

And then, as if from nowhere, it hits me! Round 
and square, like a full-fisted blow, That lands 
bang in the middle of my solar plexus And
 knocks me almost cold, 
Leaving me gasping for breath. 

Those family pictures! 
Those groups of happy, smiling faces
Young, middle-aged and old…. 
Those crowds of ten, twelve, even twenty! 
Grouped as paternal and maternal, 
Friends as family, families as friends. 

Those groups are now reduced; heavily truncated, 
Humbler in the passage of time, 
Diminished through the ravages 
Wrought by Death. 

I weep bitter tears of remorse 
For words said and unsaid.  
My face is wet with tears of repentance 
At the hugs received and not returned. 
Sobs of penitence engulf me 
As I recall 
Soft secrets exchanged 
And promises made; 
Now – never to be fulfilled. 

Reluctantly, I put back those pieces 
Of a life lived long ago, 
Unwilling to commit them to the inexorable 
darkness, Once more to be consumed 
By its yawning obscurity. 
All the while, leaving me to live,  
With the vacuity thus created; 
Till the next time 
I reach into its deep recesses.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Lying awake in bed 
At the ripe old age of sixteen 
I realised 
For the very first time 
That only a brick wall  
Separated me  
From the tumultuous madness 
That ensued in the room next door.  

It really was the very first time 
I realized and became aware 
That my otherwise loving father 
Was somewhat of a brute. 
A bogeyman who appeared 
Only in front of my mother 
Only at night 
Only within the confines of their room! 

Years of being told 
“I have very sensitive skin” 
As a response to queries about 
The purple-blue bruises, 
Had led me to believe her. 
I had often said I was glad 
I hadn’t taken after her. 
And just as often, she would say 
“Well, I hope so,” and then 
Under her breath, mutter something. 
I now realize she said, “Touch Wood! 
I should hope not!”
My anger, strangely, wasn’t directed at him. 
It was Mum I was angry with! 
I trusted her: she broke my trust. 
She lied and hid the truth! 
My sixteen year old self believed 
I had been wronged! By her! 

That changed. And how! 
I understand now 
Her shame, her fear, her helplessness! 
She didn’t want to betray him 
In front of his children 
His friends or family. 
Even then, she took it upon herself. 

I understand now 
Her penchant for wearing purple 
Shades of blue and at times, red. 
I understand now 
Why she wore sarees wrapped around her
 shoulders Why she wore long-sleeved blouses, 
Why she walked around with her eyes to the ground Why she
 pretended to have fallen, tripped, walked into a wall. I 
understand completely now. 
You see, since I was married 
I’ve taken to wearing red, blue and purple 
Saree wrapped tightly around my long-sleeved 
blouses Also, with my eyes lowered to the ground. 
My husband often jokes 
“She’s terribly accident-prone!” 

And my mother…… 
“Touch Wood! She died a year ago!”

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