For the 16 migrant tribals, crushed by a goods train at Aurangabad, as they were walking home during the coronavirus lockdown, May 2020


    My wife chose to stay with a mother-in-law she does not even like

    Saying harvest is upon us, crop has to be taken to market

    All the women say this, though really, they cast off their ghunghats

    and tell off-colour jokes in the courtyard when our backs are turned

    She, more than anyone, spins them as she pats the flour, they listen.


    Shameless, is how I remember her, sari hitched up to climb tractors

    Her wide-toothed grin a torchlight under rayon, flash of leg smiling

    Across the village, who wants a wife mad with enthusiasm in the bidai while other brides wept to leave their homes, but it was too late,

    She flattened me like kneaded flour in her palm, with purpose.


    The fellows ate theirs before we reached the border, I kept mine,

    nibbling bits like a bird who knows scarcity, seeking her palm

    in the pounded grain of millets, waving on stalks on now her land,

    gathered in the tautness of her arms, her grinning abandon to sunlight

    Soothe my calves like a massage of hot oil of where I come from.


    After I have tarred any roads I’d wish to walk on, dug others’ ditches, climbed the scaffolding of my inconsequentiality as men look past

    The scraps of her flatbreads feed me. I dry them by sun to a scramble

    A pinch of where her singed fingers flattened the dough is my salt

    Sprinkled upon the leftovers I pull from dustbins of travelling fairs


    Discards of men with more. Anything is made good again when set dry

    baked by an equal sun, trust in its heat, carry it in your heart;

    She taught me this when the moist promise of our possibility parched

    land, parched wells, parched schemes, leaving only thirsty landlords.

    I walk with parched feet for the better she knows is out there.


    Children unborn, schools unbuilt, houses not yet impenetrable by rain

    Palm to the smoking skillet, bare foot to the hot tar, dreams to the rail

    Crop in the field for that magical monsoon that will not fail,

    bellies not distended, blood running not too thin, hopes too rich, doctors cure everything but the hope in a mother’s breast


    Last of the flour for the last walk home, last of the brine of my brow

    In the valleys where the Narmada echoes the ghosts of the uprooted

    Progress is coming they say; factories of cement, electricity, soybean, dairy, the great flood of fortune is promised unto us, waters arising

    Loaded in wagons, I clutch invulnerable wheat, meal of the moderns


    I unleavened return; development is coming, coming my way. 




    Poet: Gayatri

    Poet Intro:

    Gayatri’s latest book is Anitya: How to Make the Most of Change and Transform Your Life (Hachette, September 2021). Her previous works are Sit Your Self Down, a novice’s journey to the heart of vipassana (Hachette, 2020), Who Me, Poor? (Bloomsbury, 2017), Indigenous (Juggernaut, 2016). In 2021, her poetry has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and her short fiction features in the Femina- Diwali special issue on Light. Gayatri is currently a student of the Nalanda Diploma in Buddhist philosophy.


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