Three Poems

By vqueeram aditya sahai


My favorite sight in the city

is old women
in a market, taking a taxi, idling in a balcony, crossing the road
going along all alone
someday i will be an old woman
a sign that life can be cut only one way
and i didn’t
survival of the weakest, and still

someday i will be an old woman
seen by a boy of 29 wistfully
and he will believe
that grief comes in a silk saree
with roses in her hair
and that the only threads let loose
are the ones we let open or drape
and to live till 80 is a matter we choose


you build houses

of sunshine next to
the sea for its water

so do not hold
that i weep words
against me

we are different kinds of vast
sing songs of joy
in different tongues

we scrap the same earth
and we are equal parts
air, love, and salt

do not hold
me against myself
build a house next to me

see the sun on skin
turn salt into love see
yourself like water


pleated on the other side

Christmas Day, 2011, you would see an eighty-one-year-old woman turn pastels into color, standing outside her house next to the flowers she has tended into colors, all in bloom but slightly pastel, as if the yellow, the reds and the purples were graying with her. In her garden, she stands wearing a sweater that her daughter gave her twenty or may be thirty years ago, so fresh as if the price tag is still there. For people who have been poor, the price tag never goes. This woman would quote you the price when you tell her how beautiful she looks today. 8 am and she stand with her grandson, in a stunning ikat sari her daughter gifted her this year. The daughter stretched her wallet to buy two similar ones – the more expensive one she gave her mother who put it away for Christmas.

Christmas Day, 2011, you would see Mrs. Sudan wait for her rickshaw at eight am with her grandson to go to church. It is the rickshaw puller who stays with her more hours a month than her grandson, who fends for her, does her dishes, and asks about her two times a day. It is the rickshaw puller she screams at for being lazy. The grandson who is visiting her for Christmas calls once a day and she is proud of him. It is the grandson who pushed and pushed his mother to buy the sari she was not going to buy for herself, making one a Christmas present.

Christmas Day 2011, between the fog and the sun, while waiting for the rickshaw, the church, and the festive lunch, the grandson takes out his golden phone with a 3. 2 megapixel camera to click a picture of his grandmother looking every bit of the teacher that she is. He feels love and pride while settling her pleats for her, feeling the silk run between his fingers. His grandmother is impatient for the day to begin and get moving but he feels her held together by happiness. He does not know that the photograph he will take of this moment, because he has a camera phone finally, because his grandmother looks everything, because it is Christmas, that the photograph he will take of this moment, of a grandmother who hasn’t faced a camera in twenty years but will still smile at, disarmed, will turn into the photograph they will all remember her with when she passes away two weeks before Christmas 2012. This photography will turn accident into fate – that she was always smiling and there was always someone to click a picture.

Christmas Day 2011, because the grandson is not in the picture he does not remember what he wore that Christmas but he remembers the silk of his grandmother’s sari, that he could pleat it on everyone else but himself.

I am a teacher now. I do not earn enough to casually buy a gold and black ikat even now. It would stretch my wallet and my guilt to its seams. I drape my body around other saris. Many women my mother’s age say to me that the pleats are on the wrong side, that the drape is better pinned
without irony
that five and a half meters are not enough to hide a grandson
nor enough for a parachute
that a man is a sari pleated on the other side
that a man in a sari is a drape unpinned

As the grandson that was writes this poem he realizes he has lost the only picture he had of his mother in the sari her mother had worn to her wedding. She took this sari from her mother’s almirah after her death and wore it to her first day of work. New Year’s 2013, i remember only because it’s a white phone this time. Neither of them knows how to take a photograph. She stands in her drawing room with her hands dropped to the side like the orange curtains behind her, but frozen. She hasn’t perhaps felt desired in long but knows her son loves her. She hates her photographs. For a woman who doesn’t look at the mirror much she wonders where the double chin came from in the photograph and leaves in a haste for work. She protests looking like the picture. The son cries that the photograph is now a lost protest.

New Year’s 2015, the grandson that was and the ex son find themselves shot by a director who knows what to do. He is an awkward stare away from the camera. A smile is at a glance distance from frozen hands draped like curtains on a cream wall, just good enough to be background for a picture to be eventually lost. The director laughs he hasn’t seen anyone who hates the camera more. I do two laughs:
one in agreement the other in irony.
Surprise is the only way to photograph the women of this house in a sari
aka generational memory.

Solidarity is difficult to do consciously
The shade of red isn’t deep enough on my lips
I look too professor to be woman in the street
I don’t fear a dark darker than my sari
Desires suffer too many binaries
respectable / queer
pride / shame
family / politic
aka taming insecurity

Now that i write a research proposal on queerness
my mother and grandmother become acknowledgments
i erase that i do not owe my first lessons
my PhD begins to resemble the photograph
portrait, smiling, not fighting
i write about the fight against patriarchy
not these women who occasionally wore saris
that i do every day gives the fraught project its legitimacy
so i do the pleats on the wrong side
and remember not to pin it
that someone may someday ask
why have i come undone

aka love.


the panic begins long before i open the cupboard
it’s about how things got there
walking in to a store is easy
and so is spending money
especially when you grew up wanting to spend it all the time and not having any
so the anxiety is really
about what to do in the store
to pick which sari
after the two weeks
i took to decide that a sari it will be
in the supermarkets of choice
decisions are the only things you cannot buy
else i would happily pay
someone to rescue me
a red sari is supposed to be attractive to everybody
but a black one would be sexy
but green and yellow are his favorite colors
but they never look good on me
orange the vivacious is what i want to be
i am never able to separate
what is something and what is said of it
so will white or blue get him to say something true about me?
or do i provoke him with neon as someone who can do that too
even at my age?
i come up with absurd reasons to select one
everything from supporting the local economy
to my mother had a similar one and it traumatizes me
i somehow buy one and exit the store
as unsure as i was inside looking at the kotas, the ikats, the bhagalpurs and the mysores
how can one do so much and still feel paralyzed?
it’s not like i am not happy having bought it
but i also froze and wanted to scream so a catharsis could happen instantly
and the world would reveal to me the true colors
of what i was meant to be, which sari?
its time like these i wanna kill those women around me
who claim that i should reclaim my body
but cannot do this without metaphors or analogies
somehow for these women, my body has a boundary
its lines, its make-up, its sex, its consent, its psyche
that i could just take some time to decide
that my body is mine
that it begins and ends somewhere
to be named, to let it go, to care
would someone tell these women that a decision is a burden i do not want to share
that my relationship to my body is already fraught with hunger, blades and indifference
that i cannot hug parts of me
some bits i cannot see
that there are reasons i sit crosslegged
that nudity frightens and if i had it my way, i would even cover my head
so if one more of you ask me to embrace myself
i don’t know what i will do, but you sure as hell aren’t any help
if you want to help, make my decisions for me
tell me exactly the contours of this body, what i am to do with it, why don’t you just speak for me, move for me, carry me
and while everyone debates the issue of my being
why don’t you save me in days
and if you were to actually listen to what you call my body
make the ultimate decision
find me who
to love