- These losses come with the life you lead
A favourite novel drenched in the rain as you run
for the bus, a headtorch, your beloved simulacrum of the sun
fallen in deep water in a far-off dark cave
The friend whose number you still have,
White-haired mourners gathered outside a funeral home,
Hours with uniformed officers who read you wrong
Grass and clay soil under young feet—
Known losses with a wholesome grief
These losses come with the life you lead.
- Then there’s what you experience, but cannot keep:
Voice of the spinach man, vēddi folded at knees
rivalling fishmongers’ calls on dusty streets
Black specks of ants invading white sugar
and fresh coconut grated by your grandmother
in squashy yellow packets
hanging from walls of ramshackle shacks
where you walk in broken sandals
to spend your uncle’s rupees.
Old books with old book smell, devoured by cousins
who compete for words with crawling rāmapānam.
One day you’ll lose that word too,
And where you said Rāma’s arrow, only know silverfish.
- What was lost before it was ever told
Other books are long gone, negligible war victims:
stories won in school competitions
that your mother and her sisters loved,
read, and reread with passion
and magazine serials your grandfather cut and bound
abandoned in would-be-short-term retreat
We leave differently when we might return.
(Compare, the pāddā caretaking the temple grounds
who, smiling, says, ‘I crawled here
with naught but my ID card in my pocket’
because when there is nothing more to lose
we cannot hope to return).
These bindings were cut by family knives
so you can live with these losses
not be lost with other lives
Thus in all the stories your aunts hold
are arrow-holes missing of what
was lost before they were ever told.
Like: that on your parents’ wedding day
were bloody bodies and curfews
When half a lifetime later you watch the news
there are still bloody bodies but yours
is not among them. And it will
always be a secret shame that
you escaped your birthright.
- Losses you are ashamed to bear
You escaped your birthright for a world where you can
choose to adventure in darkness because you always have light
(but you depend on simulacra here. In bleak
places the sun and your bones are weak).
You escapees can await old age
and mourn what’s lost with dignity.
Let friends move on, not grieve them
disappeared or dead in cages.
You can argue hours with a uniformed man
And not close the hurricane lamp,
though you have no power, to
huddle in dark night-time fearing intrusion
from crocodile soldiers in green uniforms
beneath whose ground-thundering guns
you have no power.
- Escape is a loss, too
and the gods you’ve never believed in.
Now, their temples in forced excavation
your anger is a different devotion.
You, here, unbelieving in Muruga—
equally as in Christ, because also lost
is the belief there are saviours
—can still believe these gods are yours.
To be yours, they needn’t be believed in.
Equality, peace, and justice,
are what you believed and lost faith in.
- What you gained
Yours is a different devotion; to live is not a sin
What is your loss (ants or words or cousins or gods)
is your parents’ willing trade. That to live, you be lost
in your birthplace, that their homeland be lost to you,
and yet in payment you feel the losses they knew.
This is your parents’ willing trade.
But to live—live free—is no sin. The sin
is that such exchanges must be made.