When Landscape Becomes Woman
I was eight when I looked through a keyhole and saw my mother in the drawing room in her hibiscus silk sari, her fingers slender around a glass of iced cola and I grew suddenly shy for never having seen her before. I knew her well, of course -- serene undulation of blue mulmul, wrist serrated by thin gold bangle, gentle convexity of mole on upper right arm, and her high arched feet -- better than I knew myself. And I knew her voice like running water -- ice cubes in cola. But through the keyhole at the grownup party she was no longer geography. She seemed to know how to incline her neck, just when to sip her swirly drink and she understood the language of baritone voices and lacquered nails and words like Emergency. I could have watched her all night. And that’s how I discovered that keyholes always reveal more than doorways. That a chink in a wall is all you need to tumble into a parallel universe. That mothers are women.
from Love Without a Story, Westland Amazon, India, 2019; forthcoming from Bloodaxe Books, UK
Learn something new every day, say the wise ones and so, we try. The news today is that there’s no one at the Champs Élysées, no one at the Gateway of India, no one at all in the spice market of Istanbul, the souk at Aleppo, that the great theatres and pulsating green rooms of the world lie plunged in darkness, that pigeons hover like suspended confetti above the piazza of San Marco, that no one’s ordering double macchiatos in East Village cafés, that a woman walking back to her village from Telangana died of starvation in a Chhattisgarh forest. Her news (and it isn’t particularly new) is that we’re always eleven miles away from home.
originally published in The Indian Express, May 2020