"If honour killing is sacred / then we are a very religious country": Prathibha Nandakumar's Poetry Cuts Sharp And Deep

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"If honour killing is sacred / then we are a very religious country": Prathibha Nandakumar's Poetry Cuts Sharp And Deep

Poetry by Prathibha Nandakumar

All poems translated from the Kannada by the poet

Honour killing

A Hindu boy and a Muslim girl eloped and got married
and went into hiding. Their families hunted them down and
killed them both in front of their one-year-old child.
No one wanted the child and the police took her
into their custody. It created great public debate.

1

They had covered only half the distance
the mosque was on top of the hill
and the temple on the other side of the cliff

The story ended even before it started

What do you tell the little one?
That, once upon a time
a foolish man and the queen of scents
were butchered for giving birth to her?

Do not dare peep into the little one's eyes
You cannot answer the questions in them.
Leave it to the National Geographic
to capture the blue-green light in them.

God incarnates and sometimes
takes the forms of knives and swords.

2

If honour killing is sacred then
we are a very religious country.

If you say you have the answer and
ask what is the question,
you will be hanged.

The blood dries to make black stains
on the roads where once
we played hop-scotch

You can live here only if you are dead.

I am appalled
there is still love in my poems.

3

The scared Brahmin who stepped on the dirt
died of shock. Ganesh festival
can also trigger a communal riot.

I apologized to the dung-bug
sorry, we are only human.
It just continued to roll the dung.

The best friend is standing behind you
with a gun in hand ready to pull the trigger.

The newspapers carry the story
of a displaced tribe caught stealing in the metro.

***

Direction

“The Hanuman temple street is one way now
come from the old pond side, it's right opposite
to the big Banyan tree''

Chandru wanted his mother to close down the old house
and move with him to America,
she wanted to give me
a pair of traditional brass lamps,
an heirloom piece, so come and take it

It was not the old familiar place any more
In less than two kilometre I had lost my way
four times. Asking for directions is
a woman's preoccupation they say

The auto driver was quick
`Oh it's right next to the next road hump,
just slow down and you will hit it'

I missed it.

The traffic police were more helpful
`just go back and it is at the first signals'

It was the same one I had passed

The doctor in a fancy car was more specific
`Take a right Its right next to the super-specialty
diagnostic centre, you can’t miss it'

His right was my left.

Surely, they were on a weekend picnic
the SUV was full of sweatshirts and football
`it's behind the gym auntie, just drive on'

What gym?

The postman, I thought would lead
`I am going on the other beat, this is the old number,
now all that has changed,88 comes after 97, ask anyone'

The priest, aha, he will definitely know the Banyan tree,
there must be a temple and the old pond near the tree
`what pond? there is no pond here, all water has dried up,
I take my holy dip under a tap, it doesn't even wet me whole,

this is the house next to the xerox shop, the old lady rent out a portion of the garage for my son, he will show, tell him
his father is going to the market, will come later'

I just stood there wondering which way to turn

Someone was frantically waving out from a window.

It was the grandmother. I looked around.
The asbestos sheet roof super-specialty diagnostic centre,
next to a corner called the gym, behind number 97,
opposite to the signal without lights turning right to the hump,
a small tree sort of a trunk cut into half, an old temple
hiding behind a giant billboard calling out Freshness,
my old ancestral home that was going to be pulled down
to make way for a new mall.

***

Pink

You are shirking your responsibility as a woman
if you don’t, sometimes, wear high heels, do your
hair and wear a bit of pink.

–Isaac Mizrahi, Fashion Designer

The untimely doorbell
brings me hurrying in bare minimum
And he stands there, the god almighty,
all dressed up in expensive silks

It was no wardrobe malfunction
my torn nighty, untidy hair,
does my mouth smell?
did I wash between legs?!

Why are we discussing some
godforsaken seminar, goofed up by some
good-for-nothing idiot, who should have been kicked out
but was given a promotion and an award too?

The coffee comes to the rescue

and the mug is big enough but
allows an unintentional touch and then
everything changed

That carpet, the window sill, the afternoon sun
that blaring music from the next door

cart vendors calling out fresh tomatoes

Nothing was pink.

He mouthed an impromptu poem
on my brown lips,
my flat feet and of course
on my thick dark eyelashes.

***

Prathibha Nandakumar is a leading Kannada poet, journalist, filmmaker, columnist, and translator. Her publications include 16 collections of poems, two collections of short stories, three biographies, one collection of essays, one autobiography, three translations into Kannada including Anand Neelakanthan’s novel The Saga of Sivagami, Agni Sreedhar's Kannada novel Edegarike into English as The Gangster's Gita (West Land, Eka). Her book of poems in English What I Fed the Cat (Atta Galatta) is ready for launch. Her poems are translated into English, Swedish, Chinese, Finnish, Danish, Spanish, and other Indian languages. She has presented her poems at international meets like Gottenborg Book festival, Sweden, Asian Writers’ Meet, Helsinki, Finland, SAARC Poets’ Meet, Kathmandu, etc. She was one of the five Indian writer’s delegations to China. Her awards include the Infosys Foundation Award for Literature, Bangalore Literary Festival Award, Karnataka Sahitya Academy Book Award, and Hoogar Memorial Award for Journalism, etc.

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