How far that little candle throws his beams! / so shines a good deed in a weary world.
The Merchant of Venice: Shakespeare.
Photo by Candia Dixon-Stuart
Giclee Prints available of above image.
Another young girl’s death reported after being banished to a menstruation
hut. She inhaled toxic fumes from a fire.
This poem is my outraged response to the barbarity of the practice:
My turn in this red chamber, wrapped in jute,
drinking bovine urine, for I’m impure.
I may not touch a plant, food, or a man;
I may not milk a buffalo, or bathe.
I’ve come here from menarche to this goth
and I’ll come here until my menopause.
I look at the night sky; try to count the stars;
wonder why Saraswati is angered
if any of us wants to touch a book.
She sits, pen in hand, on a white lotus
and leaves no trace of menstrual fluid,
her clothing as unstained as mountain snow.
The swan at her feet drinks milk at its will.
I’m told she is the best of mothers and
she dwells upon the tongues of poets too.
I pray she will preserve me from lightning;
keep all snakes away and send me to school;
pray that my mother will hand me flatbread
and not fling it at me, as to a dog.
Chaupadi. I study my child’s face
and sip gahut to purify myself
from drunken animals who molest me.
I pray the rats will not come here tonight.
It’s cold – cold enough to kindle a fire,
but I must stay alert, for my sister
was found lifeless, smoke-choked, six months ago.
Tomorrow will be Vasant Panchami.
I hope the goddess will help my baby
to learn some alphabet, so she’ll read
how to rebel, without bringing bad luck
from past generations into the next.
Then her destiny will no longer be,
what we’ve all shared: the lowly cattle shed.
The Blood Moon has arisen over the peaks.
I pray for synchrony; for company
and hope that, at the chaupadi dhara,
I’ll meet another girl who’s not a ghost.
Oh, that Kalidasa would take a dip
with us one day and share our suffering!
Don’t sleep standing up. Just one more day now.