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How to tell seasons and other poems by Srabani Bhattacharya

Coconut grove by Bruno Barbey
Coconut grove by Bruno Barbey

The dog of the hay

sleeps her day away.

Yellow as ripe paddy

Quick to fear

but sharp to hear,

Her mammary glands

still hang with the undrunk

milk of the puppies that

passed under tired

wheels of tractors that

rumble through the night

In mornings, she knows

the stir of the spoon in the cups

and she peeps through windows

for biscuit crumbs

Her ears snap up when

pots and pans clang

in the courtyard

She is prompt to trot up

and watch for leftovers

from the plates mashi cleans.

Her hind legs are poised

to sprint at the jerk of

mashi’s hands, or a strike

of her chappal

In evenings, she knows

the rhythmic thudding

of the rolling pin

and waits patiently

for the one hot roti

thrown at her

from the kitchen

In the hierarchy,

she is lowest

just above rats

but below the farmers

whose legs and heads

are all bent

before the babus

While the farmers get a seat

on the cold cement

and a separate plate and cup

(that they wash themselves),

the dog of the hay

gets no place inside the door

She eats her food

from the ground

If you asked her, she’d say,

The hay is a warmer bed

than the floor

Invoking all her names

The bells of the old Kali temple

chime with an ancestral pull,

The half-made idol on the altar

wears a hibiscus rope

and her hay stare still glare

at my sins, at my giving in

The dogs at the front

are fat with the bones

of 33 goats sacrificed

for an oath over the square

caked with mud

to hide the blood

of spirits quivering

in the shrine

The drums, the kashor

chanting loud and louder

reach their crescendo

when the pandit in trance

taps his rhythmic dance

coconut embers burn

and devout eyes roll up

and knees fall down

in obeisance and I see

blood trickling

in mazy motion down to

the drains designed for it

to nourish the weeds

growing below

Her ten avatars gawk

with conceited pleasure

lip-smacking at our waists bent

hands folded with gifts

Her incense eaters

swoop down to take their cut

of the smoke spiraling above

and devour all that

gives her power and makes

sacred the temple–

the communal clash,

crooked priests and families

whose riches recite her names

For blood must flow

so she can thrive,

and stare down

from her shaky abode

with fiery eyes

held up by the hymns

to divide ritual flowers

among open palms

clapping to the beat

of suppliance

Facing the music

Let us eavesdrop on the

minstreling vendor who

promises aloud he’ll buy

the bundles of newspaper

piling high in the veranda,

Let us look up at rickshaw

horns that cut through

drudging afternoon sun

Let us tap our feet to

hawker calls from vans

overladen with pots and pans

Let us hum the ice cream

man’s bell ringing along

privileged lanes in hope

for faces on window panes

and the running feet of

children on the staircase

with coins trinkling in pockets

Let us croon to the chords

of the dosawala clanking his

ladle on the dosa pan out

in the evenings after

this long sabbatical break

waiting for curtains to part

and shouts behind his back

asking him to wait and name

his price. Let us revel in

the noise of return, in

hollers of vegetable sellers

showing off their goods, in

the cries of the kabadiwala

who clears out the used

bottles and jars of pickles,

oil, sauce and spice that

spill in corners of the house.

Let us drown in sounds

unfamiliarised by dearth

and disease and listen again

for forgotten blues of city.

A page from Maa’s recipe book

Bring the lentils to a boil

Lullaby for Monday blues is

to drown in a red hot pool

Soft cook the vegetables

Coriander and mustard seeds

floating like boats with tomatoes

bathing in a rust-pale stew

Stir in the masala

Mornings jingling with maa’s

bangles, the chopped drumsticks,

peeled onions and slit chillies

Squeeze out tamarind water

The sabziwala’s smile (as he tucks

a sprig of curry leaves in the bag

with the Friday market) flavours

the hearty brew we pour to

soothe sultry summer sores

Use fresh curry leaves

Oh to sink in that tender scent!

Cumin playing pop in the pan

with red chilies till the leaves

curl and crisp and saliva seeps

with wholesome warmth

Add tempering and simmer

What’s sambar without the taste

of home lingering on yellowed fingers?

How to tell seasons

Mother, my book is all wrong.

It says there are only five seasons!

How can that be? What about

The season when the storms

Knock on the windows? What about

The season when the doves

bicker louder than the bulbuls

And the one when the crows disappear?

There’s that season when

The mango buds come on the tree;

The one when they turn yellow;

And when they grow fat and fall down

Of course there’s the season when

I pick up a basket of shiuli in the morning;

Then the one when Grandma has

no flower from the garden for puja.

They completely missed that season

when baba brings home the syrupy jaggery

which you and grandma turn

into pithe and puli and payesh.

That’s close to the one when little

shops plop up in corners selling

sweets and chikis and lumps of dogs

are curled up in corners instead of

lying flat with their tongues out.

What about lichi season and jackfruit season

And the one when baba’s bazaar must

Have a bag of guavas? They didn’t

Even count the one when cuckoos

Call non-stop and I can never find

Where they are hiding. They’ve

Only written about when the stairs

turn into a pond and baba puts

bricks for us to step on. This book

is a bore. It can’t tell seasons at all.

Why, they missed about twenty more.



Srabani Bhattacharya is a poet, editor, and copywriter who finds solace in the art of writing, engaging in a perpetual dialogue with the world that surrounds her. Her poems have previously appeared in esteemed literary spaces.

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