Bruised, but not Broken (poems)

-Challapalli Swarooparani 

17. Black Mother

While all sons became mother’s sons
And all daughters, father’s daughters
Just so to garland their fame with poetry,
You never got any respect in life, Mother
Only crowns of hardship.

When I think of you,
The stream of humiliation that you swam across
Breaches its banks
And flows from my eyes.

Although born beautiful like others,
For the crime of being born in a land
Blinded by caste-sightedness and rendered
Lame by patriarchal palsy
You, at the moment you breathed your way into the world
Gave up the feminine in you ―
So that you would not remember
That you are beautiful
Delicate by nature.

Why would you…
A mere glance
And even your very surroundings insult you
Minute after minute
Calling you untouchable…untouchable,
How hard it is to understand
What you have lost as a human being!

As a wife at home,
A lower-caste donkey that carries
Its burden of humiliation on the streets,
You became a thing, a daily commodity:
A cheek slapped tight this side of the wall
A cheek cuffed on the other side
On the whole, a wounded life, isn’t it?

When three crores of gods incarnated in this karma bhoomi
Got together to alienate and excommunicate you
What did you do for yourself?
Kneeling veiled before the God
Who loves even you whom nobody wants
You prayed tearfully:
Father, they do not know what they do
Kindly forgive them.
While mothers hissed from their dream-holes
Insisting their daughters marry doctors,
You, hungry and thirsty
Longed for a little respect
All your life.

You wove hope’s creepers and laid them on your thatched hut
That your children should sit on the same bench
Along with other children
And grow up as human beings…

While, like you,
All housewives took part in their husbands’
Pains and pleasures
You bowed under,
And along with other rock-like hardships
Gave into being ex-communicated.

And while my father is exploited by the whole village
It is as if you had to be exploited by him:
The wifehood in you sharpens and cuts into pieces
Your higher-than-sky soul
With an axe borrowed from the Aryans…

Mother! Look there!
Upper caste women proclaim their rights aloud
Even in our village, in these outskirts…
And did you peep out then from the hut?
What did you think, Mother?
That you could hit father, kick him and walk out?!

If that happens
Even then
On the streets you are
Madiga Muthaiah’s wife
That bitter truth will make you dizzy
And you will collapse right there.

Not your castelessness, but,
Your femininity too turns despicable.

The burns in your heart and body
Those who caused them
Get away
Generation after generation…

Even if you want to go to the city
Put on makeup and mix with people
The words you have, your very language cannot access
The names of your cosmetics.

Like the rachcha banda*under the fig tree in our village
There are places in the city:
The press club and Ravindra Bharathis to debate issues…
Amidst the movements of the short-haired,
The silksari struggles and sleeveless speeches
Your coarse cotton attire will wear
A woebegone look.

Mahalakshmamma, Ankalamma, Sitaramamma
They lecture till their mouths ache:
Oppression women face should be eliminated from the country
That women should have sexual liberty
Economic liberty ― in order to spend their bank balances as they fancy ―
In the end, the poor things,
They conclude by saying
Dalit women should also be uplifted.

The usual story
Meeting after meeting
Saris brought recently, colour TVs
In between,talk of Beijing, some where far away
As they munch at flattery-snacks and sip gossip-teas.

Has one, at least one of them
Spoken of your being there?

From Surpanakha** of those days
Through Chalakurti Muttavva***
To Sajjalagudem Mahadevamma****
A series of humiliations came your way
That you drowned in a flood of tears.

Did they talk about the filth that you inherited by birth
The starvation that came your way, as you grew up?

If it were not for your touch
Air and light on this earth will not be happy
Unless you catch ruby fish
Feeling your way
Through mud ponds with your fingers
The country’s belly will not be full…

Unless they beat you, abuse you
Not ever counting you a fellow woman
Caste reputations shall stay crippled.
Unless you burn black
Working in fields, in people’s homes
Bright colours cannot titter.

Because you have shed your bindi
And become a widow forever
These Hindu lotuses have bloomed.
Do these jeans-pants-sporting Jamuna Ranis know this?

Even if they were to be born a million times
And meditate, their noses closed,
They will not understand you
Unless and until they are born
Into a lower class
Like you were.

Like one who cannot reach the heavens
Climbing an attic
Of what use is day-dreaming, sitting under one’s roof!

Anyway: we’re used to scavenging, are we not?
Mobilize the neighbourhood
The Imanjalammas and Suvarthammas
Take out the broom from its corner
Come, let us sweep this country’s streets
Stinking of caste
Into the Bay of Bengal!

Let us clean like lavatories
The village platforms
Which proclaim, ‘Mala, Madiga bitches’
And yet measure untouchable bodies
In their scales of lust!
With the same golden hand, wash, with phenyl
And top to toe,
Your feudal husband
Who uses you as if you were his father’s property.

*platform where the villagers gather and debate

**a character in Ramayana, the Hindu epic

***a Dalit woman by name Chalakurti Muttavva who was raped and tortured by caste Hindus

****a Dalit woman by name Mahadevamma was paraded naked for the ‘crime’ of being indebted to the upper castes for a mere sum of rupees three; she is also a Jogini (religious mendicant)

(Telugu: “Mayamma”, first published in G.Lakshmi Narasaiah (ed), Padunekkina Paata, translated by Prof. K.Suneetha Rani, Centre for Women’s Studies, University of Hyderabad).


(To be continued-)

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