“Grandma had swear words as long as her ear lobes”: Three poems by Sivakami Velliangiri

Green Goddess

On those long drives in our old Herald
you looked out of the glass window
counting coconut trees.
On Sundays we went to the Marina
and flew aeroplane kites;
I waited to see the stars.
On a train, going to your native land
for the ‘seventh–month carrying’ ceremony
I disembarked half way, afraid of facing your relatives.
How many years have you been married?
No creature, not even a worm growing in your tummy?
Do not postpone too long, the younger the brisker.
Tulsi, dainty maiden shrub, green goddess
for years I drank your syrup to cure my cough
unaware your potion was culprit.
Prasad, offered by the priests as an ancient “ sacred ” leaf
to chew. That agent the old still use to celibate
I snatch from the reach of all nubile girls.


Grandmother’s Avvakai

Mangoes diced with seeds intact
tossed with salt to offset osmosis of brine;
chilli, fried fenugreek and mustard powder;
ample gingili oil that holds it together
and prolongs the shelf life. No substitutions.

Grandma had the mangoes sliced,
seeds intact with a fulcrum knife.
She squatted in the foyer with porcelain jars
lined up like the seven virgins at a shrine.
Her vocabulary was foul, but her hands were clean;
she gagged the mouths of these jars with muslin.
Three or four months in the store room,
then they rode to Madras along with cattle in a lorry.
My childhood curiosity led me to peep in
on those afternoons when Kitchaan and the house slept.
Grandma had swear words as long as her ear lobes.
She let them loose whenever she could not
hold fast to her wander-lust husband.
Two things remain in my memory –
the smell of fried mustard, and the long list of
her husband’s sly-widow paramours.


Not a Natural Disaster

Lounging in a racing Lancer
I see distant trees darken with night,
a bracket of serial bulbs – coming
closer – the outline
of a long hooked nose; suddenly
lights magnified on the mountain
blazing a ‘v’ in the running hand,
and I respond, “How breathtakingly beautiful.”
My husband retorts, “No, how sad,
no helicopter there to douse those flames!
You’re witnessing a forest fire,
how towering trunks collapse
into carcasses of charcoal.
Some rapacious trader set
the first spark.” “Rascal,”
the driver interjects:
“Trees three hundred years
in a flash like undone inner skirts.”


Sivakami Velliangiri is a senior poet, born in Madras and brought up at Trivandrum, and now living in Chennai. When Sivakami Velliangiri was Sivakami Ramanathan, she published her poems in Youth Times. After coming to Chennai, she published in various literary journals and Professor Srinivasa Iyengar included her among the women poets in his ’History of Indian Writing in English’ in his 1980 edition. She co-ordinated the British Council Poetry Circle and enjoyed bringing young ones to poetry. Her online Chapbook ‘In My Midriff’ was published by Lily Literary Review. ‘How We Measured Time’ is her debut poetry book.

Read more poetry on Bengaluru Review:

“You must be proud of the scars”: Four poems by Cat Dixon

“I remember my brother’s sudden screams”: Three poems by Yvonne Morris

“Bones are not love-handles”: Four poems by Kuhu Joshi



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