Raktakarabi – Riddhi Dastidar

Ghazal for my Grandparents surrounded by Flowers

 

I was taught to call him Dadabhai. First lesson, he said: Never pluck flowers.

Tear something from what feeds it — a violence. So I gather only fallen flowers.

 

I don’t remember it; I feel the wordless weeping: grubby fingers failing to stick it back on

to the green stalk: I’m not a killer. No language in my mouth. In hand dyed pollen, flower.

 

I remember: afterlunch the big bed — crinkly newspaper sheets, thick magazine, paper hands, thick glasses on two faces, me a wriggling worm—bookended, look at us three eating written flowers.

 

Before she rooted tight to house, Didibhai left a country newly born. Crossed a line newly drawn, then a flame, took a new name, and they ullued, they threw garden flowers.

 

Bidai: Old-life of office-going. History degree eroding with each rain. Close at hand: Mamoni, bhai, bon, beraal. Goodbye to Beleghata — house of too few rooms for eleven flowers.

 

I never thought to ask. Our first-tongues foreign. She never stopped reading. Ate words and folded thinward, thinner, still thinner. Paced the barandah come evening, willing everyone home, a stricken flower.

 

I never asked about before home meant here. About the Padma: river-flower. A time she sat still by the water? Before her sharee bloomed into house-keys, was it streaked with the silt that grew everything?

Could it be mine somehow—swam to me? Suspended in mitochondrial memory with the knot in my stomach — these invisible inherited flowers?

 

Too late. I only ate the Choco-biscuits from the tin. Grown away to bidesh promised to come home soon. The last time like always with my head on her knee—jutting out from under her tummy, a swollen flower.

 

Too weak for correction. They called it a hernia and she gestated on bones so brittle we flinched with every step—our breath cracked. The braces, fleeting protection — misbegotten flowers.

 

Of course we tried to keep her. And Ma combed her hair every night, every visit. Gathered each wisp making a bouquet, a binuni. Away, she filled our flat with plants until her Ma’s body went septic, a waterlogging flower.

 

And Dadabhai — he didn’t mind the silence growing on the big bed. Until suddenly she stopped. Then he insisted: Raktakarabi for his beloved. Blood red, red oleander. For her still body, laden flowers.

 

For years words bloomed in his head, a crowd of what to say even with speech fading to almost quiet. Even after the glasses stopped helping and one eyelid became a drooping sodden flower.

 

I remember: afterlunch, before, the big bed. Dadabhai murmurs lines he’d read somewhere, says: Tumi bolechile tumi ashbe, tumi ashbe, tumi ashbei joto deri hok.

I was grown and Didibhai still reading. She must have heard this flaming flower?

 

After: Those words returned to me like prayers. How can I not believe in gods? I have to hope he met her. On common soil. Some place they both belonged. Imagine his hands full, spilling over with her favourite flowers.

 

I only want a daughter, Mira, so she can have your name. But I won’t grow her, and it’s been so many years since you were here.

So I gather my favourites: shiuli, champa, jui. I bring them home. I sing praise for fallen flowers.

Riddhi Dastidar

Riddhi Dastidar

Riddhi Dastidar is a writer, journalist and Gender Studies scholar at Ambedkar University Delhi. She was a finalist for the 2019 TOTO Award for poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Harper Collins Anthology of QueerPoetry South Asia, Glass, Scroll.in, The Wire and elsewhere. Twitter/Instagram: @gaachburi

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