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My mother, black, prolific earth,
green leaf, a festival of white flowers.
With every burn, the earthier; with every pang
more fruit and petal.
Limbs that thrill to children's kicks.
Laying down the basket on her head,
she groaned, and closed eyes never again to open.

Raised a hundred measures of millet
to please father and win a bracelet for the arm,
swilling water for each clod of earth;
pepper, pea, millet and grain she ploughed with her hand,
blossoming in flowers, ripening in fruit,
she watched over cereal fields,
spending all youth in a tatter of sarees.

She died, she did:
What's the age of a hag bent double?
How many New Year moons, how many festivals of
sweet bread
Over the live coal? How many times she wept,
this old woman, for coin, for dead calf and ruined grain?
roamed villages, how many times,
for an ancient run away buffalo?

No, not Savitri, Janaki, nor Urmila;
nor a heroine out of history books, tranquil, fair, grave
in dignity; nor like the wives of Gandhi
and Ramakrishna. Did not worship the gods,
nor listen to holy legends, nor did she wear
like a good auspicious wife
any vermilion on her brow.

A wild bear
bearing a litter of little ones,
she reared a husband, saved coins
in knots of cloth; like a hurt bitch,
she snarled, grumbled and fought.

Mean, crooked, ready to scratch
like a monkey;
the only rule:
whatever raises a family.
Would flare up and burn
only if son went wild
or husband elsewhere.

A wild jungle bear has no need for your Gita.
My mother lived
for stick and grain, labour and babies;
for rafter overhead, rice, bread, a blanket;
to walk upright among equals.

Admiration , tears of thanks:
for bearing and raising;
living in mud and soil , and
for living as she did ,as if
leaving home for the fields,
cool, in the middle of small talk.

Translated by A.K.Ramanujan


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