By Nabina Das
We were brought up by folks who respected the encrusted time,
wound in their watches every morning, opened windows to days.
They swept the morning breeze with either their prayerful ways
or brisk footprints out about the gardens of mint and marigolds.
We were taught to eat with hands but not lick the fingers too much,
sometimes given spoons to scoop up manners away from the old world.
Also made to brush our shoes black as squeaky bumblebees on the run,
rub wet chalk every Saturday on the white canvaswear like ghost tales.
Visitors in that world arrived often without having to sniff their hands
from stiff alcohol smells. No furtive glances. They kept wearing shoes.
We were brought up by a man and a woman who valued hugging
and cracking a silly joke or two, elbows pirouetting at the dining table.
They took us to the movies where women with small breasts got laughs
and even men with clownish big arms were thought to be big bores.
Solitude meant suddenly finding hand holding in unexpected places.
A decade has now gone. Taking away easy tactile closeness with it.
Nothing changed as we spotted snails in the grass; she still cooked
while he got the monthly grocery home counting money with care.
Days of déjà vu-ing didn’t matter and he read the inscrutable Prufrock
in his gong-wide voice; she sang full throated. But it wasn’t called strategy.
Nothing took the rhythm away from books and ink and weekends,
ice cream treats, water color tablets in tin boxes, the neat domestic talk.
It’s not to say we did not hop mad after the moon or swoon in rains
brought mud in our feet, ran amok like twisters on the sleepy town.
He sneezed too hard some days and scared the alley cat and she
scanned the city in her tiny feet, eyes lush gooseberries and face small.
The music was always a rousing breeze through the receptive ceiling,
the food was quite reluctant to let its own vital aroma fade and die
I often read through my story books learning to spell: i-s-o-l-a-t-i-o-n
hidden within the Kamasutra. The neighborhood lay in erotic repose.
What was missing, oh, what was missing, people sometimes asked in jest:
not the doorknobs, not the bloody ancestors, not new birds on chipping beams.
Nabina Das is a poet and writer based in Hyderabad. She has published three books of poetry, one short fiction collection, and one novel. In the age of Corona virus, she tackles here the questions of isolation already experienced while she grew up in Guwahati, Assam, among ginger roots and swamp dragonflies.