4/15/24

NEW | Poetry | Andal Srivatsan

 


Artwork by Tachi Lloret*


Patang

 

The betel leaf vine ahead of the porch

hangs on the trellis like Ma’s dupatta.

My sister runs around with it, humming

a tune from an old flick. We go to the terrace,

he grins and points out that I walk like a girl.

I stand upright, mimic him as he kicks gravel

at the wall, doing what boys my age would do.

Today, we fly our patang. I hold it and walk backwards –

his face turns beautifully red with joy and when he yells

now, I let go and he makes a diamond frolic in the wind.

He looks like a painting; untethered, and unlike the

patang and I – moving the way we are told.




Paati’s home

 


Last night, my deceased grandmother called me on my phone

 

nee tirichy pakon eppo vara?

when are you coming towards Trichy?

 

therila. it depends on when I get offs.

 

naturally, I took the next train to her village,

crouched in first class,

crossed that familiar vista

 

nothing much had changed.

 

paint chipped off of the walls of her house,

broken down with disuse,

 

thatha’s wooden wicker chair still stood outside,

sooty.

 

the armrest would open up and pull up a footrest,

I called it magical as a child.

paati laughed; sound of rippling pearls,

fused with her wheezing.

 

inside the oonjal oscillated,

right ahead of the TV stand.

 

thatha and I used to fight over the remote,

almost always, tamil serials took over the evening.

 

outside, the tulasi madam was barren,

branches empty,

soil wearing a layer of white mould.

 

the house is the same

sans the clatter.

 

years ago,

she would paste spices on the ammikallu,

someone else slapped clothes on the pumice.

 

when she was tired, she’d pant,

put her hand on her hip, her podavai raised to her knees,

use the back of her hand to brush the strands of silver

hair on her face.

 

in her old bedroom, her many nine-yard

pattu sarees are neatly stacked in the cupboard,

 

I touch them, and they crumble into dust,

burst into the air, light up a little over my hair

 

her scent–

 

morning malipoovibuthi,

pervasive whiff of seekai podi,

ochre sandhanam 

 

follow me out

long after the doors to her home are locked.




* via wikimedia commons



NEW | Poetry | M.V. Riasanovsky

Painting by Vincent Van Gogh, via Wikimedia Commons



CW: description of a suicide

 

resemblings

 

5:27PM

i start to feel emotional

so i think did i take my meds this morning

numbness as homeostasis or as antithetical

i can’t decide what meaning my body should make of itself

 

200? - 20??

he does things to my body that i don’t often give a name

i am unable to give him a name here, either

 

12-18

𖡎 texts me ☏i just realized i never replied to your message ahh i was just not in a

headspace to reply and was like i’ll text them tomorrow; then tomorrow passed far

too many times☏

 

winter

we are trying not to drift apart

—which is sadder than if it were simply happening—

 

back then

tomorrow passed far too many times

the taste of my tears on the cold tiles      the kitchen floor where he threw me

 

18XX

my greatgreatgreatgreat/??grandfather slits his own throat with a knife

the death certificate —                              :::melancholia—

 


 

some day

there are glittering flowers in warm breezes

there is softness, or a gentle kind of remembering

 

 march2018

i stop hormone replacement therapy because

i start to resemble my father                                    among other reasons

 

tomorrow(/s)

i tell myself it is important to have these

i collect them with my eyes closed

i pick them like glittery flowers and put them somewhere safe to dry—

 

 

when the dust settles

when i become something altogether different

entirely

when my grandfather’s father dies overseas

in bloodshed unrequited

when that becomes the ancestral path

when i am the ghost consuming itself

the machination of melancholia

presently manifest

a new form of bloodshed

 

?iguessihaveleftalreadyorwillsometimeorrrr      ?

my hands are cold so i drive a little faster

it never makes me warmer

just more like i am a real thing in a real body

where the breathing is in perpetual motion

so i can give myself new names at the cusp of immortality

on the brink of other worlds



train tracks


that's the thing about families and funerals

churches of strangers and the like

we're driving home and i look at you and i say

look at how bright the moon is and look at

how much i love you and we both laugh

because it is silly and also because it is true

the stars are bright above this home

i think about the funerals i have been to

the ones i won't go to

but we're driving home and there is a bright moon

about the religion i grew up in and the one you didn't

we lived in a little apartment in buffalo new york

the snow moved by the lake effect from toronto to us

about the people who have died and how we quantify their stories

in the quilt the shoes the lists

about how it will always bother me when people call new york city

new york like there isn't a whole state above the island of manhattan

or that it wasn't upstate it was western new york

when we go to the grocery store i push the cart most of the time

you carry the bags

is there a different train station we can kiss at

i want to crush a penny

i want to feel more alive each day than the day before

about my bodies disagreement

within the procedural generation

without the catacombs

where are we going to put all of these bodies

where will i kiss you with the pennies if there are no more train stations

or goldfish or fairy lights

i am remembering that there are unopened handcreams and

thank you cards

about the first time my father called me bitch and my

mother said nothing

about when i learned to surround myself with toys as guardians

here is the thing to remember about me

if nothing else i am earnest and oriented towards a future

where the snow in buffalo is not lethal

or maybe my trauma doesn't define me so much

about the plastic water bottles or my radioactive ancestral homes

your favourite animal is an opossum mine is a beluga whale

they will never swim together i will see to it but i will

be grateful for the opportunity to accept this award

cohesion, coherence, cogent, continuity, etc. etc. etc.

look what do you want me to say?

i can tell you my secrets or we can just get through this together

are you listening?

are you listening?

are you????????????????????????????????????????????????????

chronology is boring why not just eat spider webs and then remember every bad and good thing that has ever happened

look the moon is so bright tonight that's all that really matters

she is breathing into my lungs for me

about listening to breathing lungs of moons and pennies

 


 

ugly

 

i could always take more lexapro

you kept your secret vhs stash at my house

growing up because you weren’t allowed

to watch things deemed sinful which is

funny because my house was not any

 

better really but at least we had the trees

we would tie your dog angel’s leash to our scooter and

have her pull us around your cul-de-sac which is an

annoying word it’s ugly also cul-de-sacs are often ugly

but you also had the trees at least we had them loving

it has been a long time and i am still wondering

what i could possibly take to settle the grime to

unleash the memories like balloons or lanterns

 

into a sky that will do a much better job of

caressing them it was never my intention to

keep these things forever but they are lining

my nerve endings the myelin sheath of trauma

something i never wanted to be responsible

for i could always take more lexapro or keep

 

listening to the white noise gratitude

sounds or promise myself anoth

day another day another

day that’s all anot

day another

day ano


4/9/24

NEW | Fiction | Anubhuti and the Strange Woman | Jeet Bhattachariya

 

artwork via Wikimedia Commons


 

While Anubhuti's husband kisses her neck, she closes her eyes in ecstasy. Why does it feel so good? These tingling sensations instantly titillate her senses, elating her every neuron. As Jagat's hand slides over her waist, she suddenly becomes self-conscious and stops him.

“What’s wrong?”, Jagat asks her.

Anubhuti escapes from his embrace and whispers in a childlike tone, “Aren’t you getting late for your flight?”


Jagat is in no mood to let go of her. He holds her hand and mutters, “Uff! I hate these interruptions. How will I live without you for a day?”.

Anubhuti kisses him and says, “Once you return, I will have your favourite dish ready”.

Jagat squints his eyebrows, “But you hate cooking”.

“And you love eating”, Anubhuti lovingly clasps Jagat’s nose with her index and middle finger and says, “I have learned a new recipe”.

“Ah, a surprise then?”, Jagat smiles. “I didn’t know you were doing this behind my back. Make sure, you marinate the meat long enough. But for ultimate taste, nothing beats the heat of fresh meat”.

Anubhuti squints her nose. “You talk like such a big connoisseur of meat dishes. Don’t you feel empathy for the animals?”.

Jagat laughs comically, “Oh my kind-hearted queen, don’t you know they are bred for our consumption? Otherwise, how will we solve the world’s hunger problem? We cannot survive only on plants. Our ancestors couldn’t, and neither can we”.

Anubhuti thinks for a second while Jagat holds her shoulder. “Don’t overthink this. Just be happy and remember my instructions. I am very particular about my food”, he feigns a serious face.

Anubhuti stands with her arms akimbo, exuding happiness from her whole body. She mimics the last few words with the same expression, “I am very particular about my food”.

Jagat grins. “I have a surprise for you as well”.

“Really?”, Anubhuti’s eyes dance with joy. “What is it?”

Jagat picks up his bag and says, “I have booked a house-help for you. She will come and do all the work. Take rest, my queen, you deserve it”.

“What?”, before Anubhuti can absorb her husband’s gift, he glances at the watch, “Ohh! got to go…I love you so much”. He plants a quick kiss and storms out of the house, leaving Anubhuti wondering.

For a second, she contemplates the situation. A gift. That is also a house-help. She would have been happier if Jagat could have given her a necklace, perhaps a ring, or anything materialistic. But when she sees the pile of clothes piled on the bed, the unwashed orphan dishes, and the cobwebs covering the corners of the house, she quickly changes her mind and appreciates Jagat's kindness. Such a wonderful husband she got.

Knowing that the house help will arrive shortly, she sits back on her leatherette sofa in the hall and opens the new recipe book. It is one of her favourite places in this apartment. As she peruses the book, a notification pops up in her cell phone announcing her guest. Must be the maid, she thinks to herself and starts scrolling randomly on social media.

Her book lies open in one hand, and using the other, she scrolls through reels. One after another until, she lands on a video that starts with, Do you know how eating meat can save the world?”.


The video has a catchy tune that instantly piques her interest. It shows a man standing at a farm, pointing to a herd of goats.

 “Look at these animals, these fresh hairy beasts who are ethically treated. Born and bred to solve the hunger problem. Trained to serve”.

The video pans towards a bleating goat and then looms on the Farm signboard: Eco Life farmhouse.

She has heard its name. A company setting a benchmark in the meat industry. She quickly pulls out the frozen meat packet from the freezer that has the same logo on top of it and puts it inside the microwave for defrosting. Jagat likes this meat, and so does she. Although not fresh, this succulent, tender flesh enhances the taste buds.

She moves to the sofa again, opening the bookmarked page. Just then, the bell rings, announcing the arrival of her precious gift. “Gift”, she repeats the word.
But as she opens the door, her eyes protrude out of her socket. Can it be real? Or is she dreaming? She pinches herself to confirm whatever her eyes are projecting back to her mind. It's a woman, that part she identifies but with the head of a goat. Same furry skin, pointed jaws, calm eyes, long ears and horns sticking out from the temples. Is she wearing a mask of some kind?

“Can I come inside?”, asks the woman (or the goat).

Anubhuti is unable to find a voice in her parched throat. What to tell her? She dithers for a moment when the woman speaks again.

“Don’t worry, I won’t bite. I will do whatever you want. From house cleaning to massages, everything”.

“But…”, Anubhuti reasons with her.

“It's all paid madam. At least give me a chance”, the goat woman insists.

Anubhuti thinks for a second. Jagat must have boarded the flight by now, and this woman looks harmless, except for her weird head. After a few more seconds of contemplation, she finally says, “Okay fine. But I won’t tolerate any mistakes”.

“I’ll not give you a chance to complain”, the goat-woman enters the house.

“What’s your name?”, Anubhuti asks.

“You can call me 212”.

“A number?”, Anubhuti raises her brows.

“Yes, madam”.

Anubhuti decides not to question her further. As 212 starts washing dishes, Anubhuti plops on the sofa and silently hurls curses at Jagat. What was he thinking? Did he know the agency would send someone like her? Once he reaches, Anubhuti would get the number of this agency and reprimand them. But for now, she decides to move on to the more important thing: the recipe from the famous Rampuri cuisine, Yakhni Pulao.

 

***

 

As the hourly clock slides another few degrees, Anubhuti gets engrossed in the book, making notes of the recipe and the condiments when 212 suddenly appears in front of her.

“Madam, I am done. I have cleaned the dishes, and the rooms and dusted everywhere. Do you want me to wash your clothes ?”

Anubhuti glances at her for a second and then at the clock.  “You finished all these within an hour?”

212 nods while scratching her horns.

Anubhuti stands up from the sofa and roams around the kitchen. Everything is neat and clean. The dishes, the tiles, the kitchen racks; all are spotless. She glances at the garbage bin, and it is also clear. Devoid of any vegetable residues.

“What did you do with the garbage?”, Anubhuti asks.

212 swallows a lump in her throat and stays silent.

“Never mind”, Anubhuti saunters across both the rooms and finds them immaculately cleaned, leaving no trace of dirt or soot.

“Shall I wash the clothes?”

Impressed by the alacrity of 212, Anubhuti simply nods.

212 jumps to the occasion, fetches all the dirty clothes and dumps them inside the washer. She turns back to Anubhuti and says, “Do you want a foot massage?”

Anubhuti thinks for a second. She will be massaged by a goat-woman? Doesn’t that sound strange? But strange or not, 212 is efficient at her job. She finished all her chores in just an hour. What’s the harm in trying a foot message?

She slips back again to the comfort of the sofa and lifts her legs. 212 crouches beside the sofa and rolls her hands on Anubhuti’s legs. It starts with gentle rubbing, then slowly prodding on her tender muscles, touching all the pressure points with such perfection that Anubhuti could feel the sensation climbing through her hips to her spine, spreading itself like an eagle spreads her wings.

Where did you learn such art?”, Anubhuti asks.

“In our farm, madam”, 212 responds.

Intrigued by this unusual arrangement, Anubhuti asks her a series of questions, “If you don’t mind, I have a lot of questions for you”.

“Sure, ask”, 212 says without any expression on her face.

Anubhuti takes a breath to compose the questions in her mind and then stares at her goat-like eyes. “Why is your name 212?”

“That’s the number assigned to me.”

“Why not a proper name?”

212 shakes her head and says, “Because names will bear emotions. Numbers won’t, and I can’t have emotions”.

Anubhuti rests her chin on her hand and fires the next question, “Why can’t you have emotions?”

“Because I was bred to serve humans. I look after their every need, their whims and desires. I can do everything they want of me.”

“Really? Everything?”, Anubhuti raises her brows. “Like the Genie in Arabian Nights?”

“Yes… but unlike the Genie, I don’t stop at three wishes. Although, I do have my limitations given the fact I am a…”, 212 keeps rubbing her feet.

“G.O.A.T? Greatest of all time?”, Anubhuti laughs at her own joke. 212 also joins her with a series of bleats.


“You’re funny 212”, Anubhuti stops laughing and gazes at her. 
 No, seriously what more can you do?”


“Anything domestic. Such as cooking, cleaning…”

“I do have to cook. Such a tedious task. Anything else you are skilled in?”, Anubhuti relaxes.

“I am an excellent masseuse, caregiver, sexual partner, gardener”, 212 adds up to the list.

Anubhuti feels jolted once she hears about the last few skills. “What did you say? Sexual partner? You are up for sex as well?”

212 nods. “Yes madam. I was bred to provide any service to the human without asking questions. If the madam desires, I can help reduce sexual tensions from the body”.

A certain spark runs through Anubhuti’s body. She gazes at 212, wondering what prompts anyone to have sexual relations with a goat or a woman or whatever this being is. Quickly, a scene unfolds in front of her eyes, particularly the one from her honeymoon in the Maldives. She lays bare on her back along the beach, caressing Jagat, kissing him incessantly. And during this moment of extreme passion, she closes her eyes in endearment, drowning in a pool of wild sensations. But in the next moment, she gets poked in her neck by something hard. And when she opens her eyes, she sees a goat fondling with her breasts, and licking her ears with its long tongue.

“Eww!!!”, Her stomach churns with the thought of this and she unknowingly plants a kick at 212. The goat woman tumbles from the side of the sofa to the woollen carpet without a sound.

An extreme revulsion rises from Anubhuti's gut, crawling through every inch of her skin. She feels like retching, angry at herself or perhaps at Jagat for gifting her such an unusual service, or perhaps at 212, who planted the seed of such a queer idea in her brain. She regrets allowing this person or animal into the house.

And what about Jagat? He is equally responsible for this. Let him feast on a meal cooked by this 212. She has lost her enthusiasm for cooking.

“Once you’re done with the clothes, start cooking. The recipe is on the bookmarked page”, Anubhuti says with a straight face and stomps towards her room without even bothering to check 212. She closes the door behind her and lies flat on the bed, pondering ways to remove the thought from her mind.

 

***

 

A weird uneasiness has sunk its teeth in her skin. She takes a long breath to subdue the turmoil inside her mind. One, two, three, and keeps on counting until she reaches 212.

“Uff!”, finally Anubhuti shows signs of normalization. She glances at the balcony, where silhouettes of tall buildings stand against the western horizon. Basking in this soft light, she lets the evening wind soothe her anxiety.

What a day, she thinks to herself. Not just the thought of copulation, but the whole episode has somehow shaken her to the core. But what is 212? Is she just a maid or a projection of her guilty sub-conscious? And if she is real, then what is she? An animal or a human? Does she have feelings or conscience? Or is she something bred purely for human needs? How can she not feel emotions? What chemicals are running inside her? 


Anubhuti
s head throbs with these questions. She ponders for some more time, going over 212s words.


“I was bred to serve humans. I look after their every need, their whims and desires”.

Anubhuti jerks her head, feeling apologetic for her behaviour towards 212.

Suddenly, a strong smell of garam masala wafts in the air, making Anubhuti's tongue water. Perhaps, 212 has started cooking, tempering the meat in that flavourful ghee.

Anubhuti opens her bedroom door and saunters towards the kitchen with a smile. Such intense aroma is making her hungry.

How’s the smell, Madam?”, 212 asks when she spots her coming to the kitchen.

“Too good”, Anubhuti glances at her face. She is surprised not to find any trace of anger in 212’s face. But does a goat show any form of anger like humans? Do their muscles twitch?

Anubhuti cannot remember seeing any goat angry or sad. In fact, she cannot remember anything but the smell of this Yakhni Pulao. A wave of happiness hit Anubhuti when she bends down near the cauldron to inhale the flavour. “Such intense smell. Oh, I can’t wait to taste it!”, she closes her eyes.


“Yes…fresh meat always has this sweet aroma”, 212 says while sautéing the meat.

Just then, Anubhuti remembers something. “Fresh meat, you say?”, she quickly darts at the microwave and then at 212.

A panic arises in her intestine. “Blood!!!!...what have you done?”, Anubhuti squeals.

212 bleats again while letting the blood drip from her right shoulder, “The meat was frozen, and the microwave was off, Madam. So, I used fresh meat as it always tastes better. And don’t worry about the blood. I’ll clean it after this.”

Anubhuti loses her voice, her mind; her whole body is shaking with an unknown emotion. Perhaps it is fear, or perhaps a profound disdain for the meat in the cauldron. Quickly, another episode flares out in front of her eyes: 212 chopping her hand and then skinning it, letting the red blood drip through the sink. After that, she keeps it on the counter-top and chops it into small pieces.

Anubhuti’s stomach churns with the smell of meat. Something is crawling out of her mouth, and, in the end, it stops at her throat. “How could you? Don’t you feel pain?”
“I was bred to serve humans. I look after their every need, their whims and desires”, a drop of tear rolls down her furry cheek.