Unheard Voices

A Poem in Three Sections

by Sutapa Chaudhuri (December 2015)

 

I

 

I’m the formless foetus you aborted, Mother,

when yesterday, at the ultrasonography clinic,

the doctor told you I’d be a girl…your third.

You sank in shame on the low plastic stool;

your guilt-ridden face hidden in your palms.

 

I could spy father’s fury spewing forth—

his drunk eyes, red in rage, engulfed

in utter incomprehension, his precious virility

at stake. Back at home, amidst the clamorous

din of a slowly disintegrating joint family,

 

I could hear grandma shrieking abuses—

blaming your inauspicious signs,

keening harshly for a lost line of sons.

My sisters cowered, fists clenched, throats

choked, bemoaning their scanty lives.

 

 

Reverberating with the forlorn sighs

of a hundred unborn girls, the damp walls

of the mansion, derelict and dispassionate,

deliberated yet again a pre-meditated

cold-blooded crime committed for centuries.

 

A strange grating noise echoed eerie

through the silent hallways, haunted

by the ghosts of the past; the present and

the future held in abeyance. Their tearless,

dumbstruck eyes dilated in fear as the bloated

 

milk-fed infants drowned and floated 

in tubs of milk lugged forward in sinister rituals.

Their anguished wails, lonely and muted,

trapped within its impenetrable walls—

the sole witness to a hundred hushed up crimes.

 

 

I curled into you then, Mother, tight like a ball

clinging for protection in the tender warmth

of your generous womb, the ruthless world at bay.

They laid me out on a kidney basin instead—                                   

the cold steel scorching my nascent warm body,

 

my pink fledgling skin all a-wrinkle,

my unformed mouth voiceless,

yet gaping wide, as if trying to shape words;                                        

my lacerated, still-beating heart

merely an unnoticed medical curiosity.             

 

You looked happy then, Mother,

gazing with relief at my momentarily

quivering body, a bloody mass

on a surgical dish: forever homeless, yet

forever haunting the precincts of a spectral love.

 

 

II

 

I’m the docile daughter who’ll burn again, Mother,

in your kitchen fires. The handsome dowry

that accompanied me so pompously on my marriage,

a meagre nothing to your lustful, greedy eyes.

 

Soon on some sultry summer afternoon,

the mediocre kerosene stove will burst out,

suddenly, in all consuming irreverent flames.

The wild impudence of its all-taming passion

 

lopsided and incongruous in the rich décor— 

the posh interiors of your modular kitchen,

amidst the next-gen gadgets and sparkling

dinnerware. Absorbed in their dusty files,

 

forever overburdened with cases of blatant

dowry-deaths, honour-killings, rapes and

molestations, the significance of sudden,

impromptu fires in modern kitchens loses

 

colour in a mildewed verbosity. Dutifully,

the police thus records yet again, ‘A case

of unprecedented accident at home one                                     

fine summer afternoon while pumping

 

the out-dated kerosene stove to boil water…’

all culpability cannily camouflaged in florid 

records, devious connivers in a complacent crime—

your gleeful faces will belie the deadly lie nonchalant;

 

no questions asked.                                                                                      

 

 

III

 

I’m the daughter whose shadowy face

scars the pristine news media and family breakfasts

every morning; whose absent presence haunts

 

the myriad women commission reports—

agendas-on-priority, talk shows, expert discussions,

opinion polls, mobile apps and ‘support’ groups.

 

I’m the docile daughter whose defiled body

hangs raped from a tree, the aspiring teenager

left bloody and naked by the lonely roadside,

 

mauled by a gang of marauding men.

I’m that raped child of five huddling

desperately in a school classroom holding

 

my tongue and precarious, bloody insides.

I’m the silent mother, whose beloved

daughters are burnt alive for dowry;

 

whose proud sons sever boldly

the heads of their transgressing sisters,

merely to uphold the fragile family honour.

 

I’m that girl whose sisters, in silent anguish,

put on an array of costly cosmetics to hide

the daily bruises that darken with pain

 

their inscrutable kohl lined eyes; whose cousins

vanish without a trace: sold off to the lure

of foreign lucre. I’m that suffering wife whose                           

 

malnourished sister dies birthing in some

obscure alley yearning only for a son

to grace her lap. The tormented victim

 

of a yearly ritual, whose infant girls die

smothered in tubs of milk, cruel lumps

of salt pushed down choking their tiny throats.                                

 

I’m the same mother, ancient or young,

sold off, beaten up, defiled and prostituted,

burnt, murdered, swapped or abandoned.

 

I’m the same woman, the same as you are.

 

 

_______________________________________

 

Sutapa Chaudhuri has two poetry collections — Broken Rhapsodies and Touching Nadir. My Lord, My Well-Beloved is a collection of her translations of Rabindranath Tagore’s songs.

 

 

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