I cannot speak this language.
It is not mine, but my father’s
Not mine, but my mother’s
It was lost to me long ago, hidden
In a secret space, deep in the wells of my memory.
This language is not mine. It is another’s.
It floats from this long-forgotten place
To the surface of my tongue.
Enthe peru Rhea. No, say ende
Roll your tongue back to the roof of your mouth.
Come. Let me teach you.
Ma is for mazha
Tell me: how does it feel on your skin?
This is the water that birthed you.
That beat on the roof when you were ill
Mad with grief, trying to get in.
Aa is for antharjaanam
Crouching silent in the lamplight.
Eyes moving unknowingly
over these words.
The hunger takes her. For her sins, again
She goes into the water.
See how she looks at you.
See how she sees you
through the fog
and circumstance. Ahankaaram.
Be grateful for what we have given you.
How bad did you have it?
Did they beat you, rape you, starve you?
All of these things, and more
they have done to me.
But I stayed, and was buried in the womb
From which I had sprung.
And yet you: free woman, cold woman,
have betrayed your mother
To suck at another’s breast.
Come back, come back.
It is not too late.
The earth and water still know you
as one of their own.
Your sisters are calling
Come back, they are falling
Va chechi, nammudoppam
Enne ariyamo? (ennay ariyamo): Do you know who I am?
Ende peru (enday paeru): My name is Rhea
Mazha (mara): rain
Antharjaanam: literally translates to ‘one who lives inside the house’. It was a term used to denote upper-caste Hindu Brahmin women in ancient Kerala, who lived highly restricted lives confined to the house.
Ahankaaram: arrogance, insolence
Va chechi, namuddoppam uranukka: come older sister, sleep with us.
Rhea Kuruvilla is a Canberra based Indian-Australian writer. She was the inaugural winner of the City of Casey Young Writers’ Competition in 2009.