Poem: Alu Pitika
By Sumana Roy
Like strangers united by fear, we smile –
our patience is running out,
the plane’s been scraping the runway for half an hour,
reluctant to let go of the earth, its sole.
Our minds are already in the air,
studying our bodies, as if they were nails on walls.
They might return to the bodies someday,
as clothes return to pegs, changed.
Everything seems unnatural –
so fat (and overfed) is our fear.
The day’s jaws are shut.
In Delhi the sky is sick –
the smog an unwashed petticoat.
‘Bagdogra’ – the destination,
though we, like believers,
hear only one sound: ‘home’
(like ‘Om’, as we joke later).
The plane’s magnified the sky.
Sunlight looks like its goose bumps.
Our faces are dry, hair loose on it,
damp, ignored, like a price tag on an old shirt.
We exchange nouns: ‘Miranda House’, ‘Kokrajhar’,
the ends of her pendulum; I say ‘Siliguri’ and stop.
Kokrajhar, she says again and smiles –
pain explodes from the word;
the spool burns before it’s unwound.
She is twenty – too young, too young;
anxiety moves on her face like oil on water.
We’re suddenly safer in the sky –
the protests, the shutdown,
the killings are all on land,
where mirror must land to break.
First the acronyms to start the conversation,
as if they were coins for a pay phone:
CAB, NRC, ‘like SAT and GRE,’ she says.
Politics and injustice, wheels and skirts,
the chicken’s neck – the viscous subjects end,
like neighbours’ lights die, like flowers wilt.
Then, we only discuss alu pitika –
the austere kindness of potatoes inside mouths,
the mustard oil, like a quote
by which one remembers a book,
the green chillies which only land
– not air, not water – can produce.
Our eyes close for rest,
like bells that need to stop ringing.
The plane kept circling the airport
like a monarch waiting for the throne.
Inside my eye was my mother’s hand –
mashed potatoes dried on it, from waiting.
It was news of home.
Sumana Roy is the author of How I became a Tree, a work of nonfiction, Missing: A Novel, Out of Syllabus: Poems and My Mother’s Lover and Other Stories, a collection of short stories. Her poems and essays have appeared in Granta, Guernica, LARB, Drunken Boat, the Prairie Schooner, Berfrois, the Common and other journals. She lives in Siliguri and Sonipat, where she teaches at Ashoka University.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.