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Inheritance - Nalini Priyadarshni (India)

 


INHERITANCE

 

-         Nalini Priyadarshni (India)

 

If only Amma had clever things to say

or finesse or largesse to her credit

but she was odious in a mundane sort of way

driving us to dust and clean the house endlessly.

 

We peeled raw mangoes fallen during the night to make

chutney by boiling them in jaggery syrup and condiments

hacked them into square pieces for aachar and danced

 to old Hindi movie tunes on radio when she was away.

 

Saying ‘No’ was not an option

especially when it came to food. If it was on the plate

we were expected to finish it to the last lick

or be held responsible for all starvation deaths in Africa.

 

Even before we could open our mouths in protest

her pitara of laments would fly open

brimming with tales of a motherless childhood

an indifferent father, a wicked step-mother and charitable relatives.

 

She forgave no one, she forgot nothing

kept each misery wrapped neatly in a grudge

each anguish tucked safely in a spool of fire and resentment

carefully folding and stacking each wrong

 life dealt her in the almirah by her bedroom

to be aired at regular intervals.

 

She peppered our narratives liberally

with guilt for the cushy lives we lived

to camouflage the bitterness on her breath.

 

Half a lifetime later, guilt and discontent are my inheritance.

 

A stranger to acceptance, embarrassed by attention

 I am stuck at forgotten crossroads

everything I remember turns to ashes when touched by sunlight.

 

Trapped in the safety of my home, I am unable to flush a toilet, for

men dying down in sewers come to haunt me late at night.

I can hear Amma when I speak

she stares back when I look in the mirror.

 

If only I had something clever to write home

Or lores of magnanimity

but everything I touch turns odiously mundane

except the bitterness nesting on my tongue

 

****