Bruised, but not Broken (poems)

-Challapalli Swarooparani 

15. Step Mother

My Hindu step mother!
When you excommunicated my touch
To a nowhere place, the trisanku heaven*
Tied a muzzle to my mouth
Hung a broom down my backend made
A strange animal out of me
I became an alien in my own land.

With not a sliver of land for myself
I pleaded with the four directions
Prayed for a god who would treat me kindly.
A mosque hid in its womb
My head, bent with generations of insults,
Applied salve to my untouchable wounds…

A cross gifted me humanity
Cleansed the leper’s head
That you smeared with blood.

Like a child who takes shelter with a neighbour
When Mother beats and drives her away,
I embraced
My mosque… my cross…

My mosque and cross uttered
Nectar-filled affectionate words in my ears
Gone deaf with the lead
That you poured into them
For listening to your Vedas,
Wiped my incessant tears with tender sari ends…

I do not know if they are angels or demons…
Friends or enemies
I don’t know any philosophy in order to
Debate and discover.

One who starves, whose belly burns is
A materialist in this country!

Though my mother, you left me starving,
Accused me of treachery, when I wanted to beg
Beat me with a lathi
Doused me with petrol.

What should I call your double-tongued morality?
That made me a devadasi
Ordered me to serve the village?

With what cotton shall I rub out the saffron puss that
You spilt on my white frock
Alleging an international conspiracy?

I don’t want the salvation after death that you preach
Or the other world that our cross and mosque predict.

While alive
I want:
A bit of earth for my feet to stand on
My own sky to look up to
To breathe deep of even a pinch of liberty’s air
A fistful of humanity
Just these.

*a heaven that the sage Vishwamitra built, when he was denied access to the heaven that was; since has become a symbol of a nowhere land, neither here, nor there.

(Telugu: “Savatitalli”, translated by Prof K Suneetha Rani, Centre for Women’s Studies, University of Hyderabad and published in Mankenapoovu, an anthology of poems by the author, 2005 and K. Suneetha Rani (ed), Dalit Women’s Writing, 2012.)


(To be continued-)

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