My mother was an enchantress
My daughter has seen her dance
With cats at night.
House-geckos used to respond to her call.
With her index finger she manoeuvred
The movements of the spiders
At home leg by leg
A single frown from her, and
The cockroaches fell flat,
Their thin legs groping the air.
When they heard her footsteps
Rats returned to the laps of
The witches who had sent them.
She returned the owls’ hoot
And the foxes’ howl.
Even sterile cows began lactating
As she stroked their backs.
Coconut trees bent down
to drop their tender fruits into her thin hands
Mango trees burst into blossoms at her touch
Even the plates and ladles at home
Stood to attention at her command.
Ghosts smiled at her, like neighbours.
She knew by heart the lexicon
Of ants and grasses.
Using different synonyms she changed
The rain’s rhythms and the wind’s beats.
She grazed the clouds, lightning for her whip
Butterflies formed a halo
Around mother’s head.
She recognised each crow
By what it had been in its previous birth.
She found the names of squirrels
Reading their lines, summoned them
and taught them Malayalam.
Reading the map of her betel-spit
She prophesied father’s death on the temple- hill.
When his clothes came back she hugged them
As if father was still inside them
She prepared meals for guests even before
The crows announced their arrival,
Planted coconut saplings and
Sowed vegetable seeds
For each of her unborn grandchildren
The only thing mother could not predict
Was the end of her own world.
Sitting in that darkness,
I recall that world:
The barn in the fields and the paddy measure,
The winnowing flat and the bamboo mat,
Songs of the ploughmen and the weeding women
The thorny names of the paddy seeds,
And my bleeding black, black roots.
My mother was an enchantress
lives in: Delhi, India
K Satchidanandan (b.1946) is a bilingual poet, critic, playwright, editor, fiction writer and travel writer. He has thirty collections of poetry in Malayalam, ten in English and thirty-five collections in other languages including Arabic, Irish, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese besides all major Indian languages.
He has won fifty-two literary awards - including the National Academy award, Dante Medal from Italy, Poet Laureate Award from Tata Literature Festival, Bombay, five awards in five genres from Kerala Sahitya Akademi besides the topmost awards for poetry and total literary contribution from Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Maharashtra.
K Satchidanandan has read his poetry and lectured at several festivals and bookfairs in over thirty countries in six continents. His latest books of poetry in English include While I Write (Harper-Collins), Misplaced Objects and Other Poems (Indian National Academy), The Missing Rib, Not Only the Oceans (Poetrywala, Bombay), The Whispering Tree, No Borders for Me (both Hawakal, Kolakata) I am a Language ( Dhauli Books, Bhubaneshwar), Questions from the Dead ( CopperCoin, Delhi) and Singing in the Dark ( ed. with Nishi Chawla, Penguin-Random House, India).
His selected essays on Indian literature, Positions was published by Niyogi Books, Delhi in 2020 and a collection of resistance writing, Words Matter edited and introduced by him came out from Penguin Random House in 2018.
Satchidanandan lives with his family in Delhi.
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