“India Is”

So maybe I lured you here under false pretenses. Maybe I’m no kind of cook, just a mom with a dayjob and a desktop folder stuffed with navel-gazing meditations on life and death and what consumes all the time in between: parenthood.

Does it matter, so long as I make you a tasty meal now and again?

Without further ado, I introduce a poem I wrote for you.


When you drink chai for a week like it’s water.

One day your mami tells you: “Buffalo Milk. Buffalo milk. No cow.”

Every syllable is a proclamation. She needs you to know this.

How many calories of chai? You wonder.

India is a hotel room where they don’t change the sheets.

Two towels more, you smile your best American smile. Please?

When the toilet paper is gone, and room service: They won’t give you more.

Moments like this – and art projects – reveal the versatility of cardboard tubes.

India is your Dadi Ma. Old enough to be married at 14,

but too old to remember her mother; passed in her third childbirth, aged 19.

You are just beginning to become old.

When grandchildren come to visit in between trips to Trivandrum and Muderai, Kodaikanal and Bangalore, Dadi Ma is:

  • a stop between hill stations.
  • A hello and goodbye.
  • A swirl of hair that can hardly hold itself together. Knotted low on a brown neck still straight and proud.
  • A language your children can’t understand.

India is language. Dozens of them,

When the Gujarati clan from Dubai won’t believe you speak none of them.

“Just a little they ask?” coming closer in the pool, drawn to broken Gujarati

like moviegoers at the multiplex.

When you’re shy for reasons that are not the blue bathing suit,

the closing semi-circle of women and men in water, the sunburned shoulders popping freckles as you stammer.

“Pani, upara, beta, came cho, eka minata, dudha,” you break down in a string of baby talk.

It sounds like: “Water up darling, how are you? One minute milk.”

In retrospect, that’s a sentence.

India is mosque, temple, church, mosque, mosque, church, Virgin Mary, Ganesh on every dashboard. Diamonds for sale next to the cool bar selling pepsi and potato chips that is next to the ladies on the corner. They sell fishes wrapped in newspaper.

India is so rich, except when it is so poor.

When you are at your worst is when the children find you. Draw to skin that burns and freckles, clothes cut low, T-shirts that hug. Americans, they will find you.

Tell them “no.” Walk away. No rupees for you today.

Your daughter sees them better.

“Why do so many moms ask you for money, but you won’t even look at them?”

India is where she sees you more clearly, too.

Under the smog of Mumbai and in the sea of Trivandrum.

Over the wall of languages waiting to be climbed every hour. Dog fight at midnight!

A chorus of frogs for when it gets quiet.

India is a place to see past the noise. Listen.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: developing definitions « Diary of a Corporate Wife
  2. Chutney Challenged
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 17:11:33

    “India Is” is about 92 percent autobiographical. We went to only one hill station. I can’t tell you the exact age of DadiMa’s mother when she passed, but she was very young. Most everything else is as I encountered it over 21 days and three states: Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. For more of this kind of thing, read: “Ragda: the Final Chapter.”


  3. acorporatewife
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 18:01:51

    Real: “Your daughter sees them better. ‘Why do so many moms ask you for money, but you won’t even look at them?’ India is where she sees you more clearly, too.” How did you answer her? How did you explain so that she understood?


  4. Chutney Challenged
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 21:27:20

    That’s a book, not a blog post! But living and learning in a high-needs, high-poverty school district offers many unexpected gifts. I think from a young age the kids have been aware of privilege, injustice, inequality, and they have watched their friends and classmates live through some of that and still be real/normal/vibrant children. Not that being poor and being a child isn’t hard, and I think it’s got to be harder being a poor child in India than in America. You can’t even compare. Not at all. But at least they have some foundational understanding of how life is hard for different people in different ways, and that there’s not much difference between “haves” and “have nots.” Now the quick answer to your question: inadequately and evasively. Something about donating money to groups that work on systemic change, not individual by individual. A couple times, I lied.


  5. College Dave
    Mar 20, 2013 @ 20:03:54

    Love it!


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