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Inheritance

If only Amma had clever things to say

or finesse or largesse to her credit

but she was odious in a mundane sort of way

driving us to dust and clean the house endlessly

we peeled raw mangoes fallen during the night to make 

chutney by boiling them in jaggery syrup and condiments

hacked them into square pieces for aachar and danced

to old Hindi movie tunes on radio when she was away.


Saying no was not an option

especially when it came to food. If it was on the plate

we were expected to finish it to the last lick

or be held responsible for all starvation deaths in Africa

even before we could open our mouths in protest

her pitara of laments would fly open

brimming with tales of a motherless childhood,

an indifferent father, a wicked step mother and charitable relatives

she forgave no one, she forgot nothing 

she kept each misery wrapped neatly in a grudge

each anguish tucked safely in a spool of resentment

carefully folding and stacking each wrong

life dealt her in the almirah by her bedroom

to be aired at regular intervals

she peppered our narratives liberally 

with guilt for the cushy lives we lived

to camouflage the bitterness on her breath 


Half a lifetime later, guilt and discontent are my inheritance

A stranger to acceptance, embarrassed by attention

I am stuck at forgotten crossroads 

everything I remember changes when touched by sunlight

trapped in the safety of my home, I am unable to flush a toilet, for

men dying down in sewers come to haunt me late at night

I can hear Amma when I speak

she stares back when I look into the mirror. 


If only I had something clever to write home

or lore of magnanimity 

but everything I touch turns odiously mundane

except the bitterness nesting on my tongue.

~ Nalini Priyadarshini

(Listen to the Podcast)

Inheritance: Welcome
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