January 14, 2006

pongal wishes

awake at 4
every once a year
my chitti came home
smelling of hamam
white flowers in her hair
and the morning dew
my cousins with her
sleepy-eyed though
dressed for school
and waiting for the show.

after coffee and gupshup
a complaint or two
of homework not done
of things to do
amma would get
the big plates she had set
until late last night
of sugarcane sticks
and coloured rice
shaped into balls
for convenience.

dropping our bags
pigtails oiled and black
faces powdered
so sleep won’t be back
we flocked around the table
as little children would
extending a hand each
towards the centre
over rice balls and all.

a coconut was broken
but not split in two
just enough for the water
to trickle through
amma held it such
chitti’s hand under hers
and four little hands
stretched and stretched
beneath, making it six
at least.

round and round
the rectangular table
three times we went
not stopping not rushing
trying to catch
each drop of water
that slipped through
our strained fingers
our many hands.

kakpudi vechen,
kanpudi vechen
kakekyella kalyanam,
kurvikyella seemantham…

watching our mothers
repeat these words thrice
(somehow i still
never get it right.)

the show was over
yellow, red,
brown and white
the rice balls some
were kept at the window
for the crow to peck
the rest we offered
for the cows in the street
as for us lucky children
vadas and jaggery-rice
pongal, and chutney too
would be in our dabbas
for school
our happy treat.

tomorrow at dawn
my dear amma
and chittis
will meet again
perhaps granny too
they’ll go around the table
crows will be called
and cows will be fed

but all this only after
coffee and gupshup
and a complaint or two
of the times that were
and the children
how fast they grew
how fast they have gone…


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