My maan, baap, bhaee and bahan, and I crammed under the double bed that belonged to my sister and me. We had dragged blankets and pillows with us to buffer the concrete floor. Outside gale-force winds were howling and whirling at unfathomable speeds. Inside we tried to be louder with our cyclical chanting of Hare Rama, entreating a greater force to intercede.
After what seemed like ghante, but actually were minutes, the winds died down. We crawled out to assess the aftermath. Standing in an eerie vacuum, my dil paused for an indeterminable period, while my presence fled into yaadash.
The tree’s trunk fits snugly into our three-kid hug. My siblings and I climb her almost daily. We sit in her lap – like that of goddess Shakti’s – and dangle off her limbs.
Each season, she is endowed and generous with her gifts, which we appreciate whether unripe or juicy. The unripe ones we peel and slice into batons with a paring knife, and toss with mirch and namak, salivating with anticipation. We pick baltee-fuls, too, and sit with mum, halving, pitting and drying the fruit in the tropical sun, to be spiced and salted into mum’s infamous achaar.
The ripe aam we pluck and smoosh into our mouths. The pulp decorates our cheeks and chins, while the russ dribbles down our wrists into the nooks of our elbows. We use our daant to clamp onto the skin that we peeled off with our ungaliyaan – then pull at it, teeth scraping off the filaments.
Our tree bears more phal than our greed can handle. A bounty remains, turning blush-golden and juicy over weeks, some with dark spots on their skin, which join if we don’t get to them fast enough. We can never get to all the pukka ones in time, but risk julaab trying.
When we are not on the tree, we are under her. Her branches spread vast, partially shading our tin ghar and almost all our front yard. My father, a mechanical engineer, built his fishing boat with his haath in the cool of her shadow. He laboured over months, sanding the hull and applying fibreglass with slow, rhythmic strokes, like an extended pooja asking for her protection when he’s at sea.
Of her one-hundred-plus years on the planet, hamaareaam ka ped lived with us for five. In January 1985 she withstood cyclone Eric but was spliced lengthways by cyclone Nigel three days later.
To this day I believe our tree heard our incantations as she descended towards the house and came to lie on either side, protecting her parivaar in the cradle of her halves.
maan, baap, bhaee and bahan: mother, father, brother and sister Hare Rama: Hindu chant/prayer ghante: hours dil: heart yaadash: remembering / memory Shakti: a Hindu goddess; shakti also means power mirch: chilli namak: salt baltee: bucket achaar: pickle aam: mango russ: juice/nectar daant: teeth ungaliyaan: fingers phal: fruit pukka: ripe julaab: diarrhoea ghar: house haath: hands pooja: prayer hamaare aam ka ped: our mango tree parivaar: family
Lesh Karan was born in Fiji, has Indian genes and lives in Melbourne. She has worked as a pharmacist, medical writer and digital content specialist, but fancies herself as a creative writer and poet. Lesh wrote her first poem in May 2018. Her poetry has been published in the Australian Multilingual Writing Project and Cordite Poetry Review.
The first sensation of गति, my आज़ादी rolling out, humming away the rush to get here is washed away the दिल्ली buzz, the crowd, the smog I am stripped of it all as I lay my sheets down stretch my body out, legs bent लंबे लोग weren’t made for this bed as the gentle side to side motion begins rocking in crescendo as we glide forward, onward
the gentle sway, mesmerising dance that will go on for days that drives me to meditate, into an altered state brings me into a शांत place with my प्यार for this compact space, this flow, this flux that will see me embrace my dreamscape release my clenched fists, my downward gaze let it all go, a state of calm, I surrender, let the गति take me
this solace in stillness I cannot taste only ज़िंदगी in गति will see me sleep so deeply as time and space take on another meaning hours later when I wake, opposite me auntie and uncle are seated खाना ready packed and wrapped, they release their चपाती सब्ज़ी in one टिफिन with another for अचार my stomach is jumping, I lift my body slowly feeling in my bag for foil, undo the पराठा
that मेरे दोस्त had prepared at 3 o’clock that morning You can’t take a train trip without खाना! their fine work still holds warmth, rolled with their care I tear away small pieces, wanting to savour it all as I ruminate on धनिया, हरी मिर्च, आलू and गोबी the मसाला of the आम का अचार made by रितु की मम्मी I close my eyes, see the flavours all the more intensely before I wrap it up, curl up once more finding my dreamscape once more, captured in a state of surrender, only in गति
A flat bread from the subcontinent
tiffin – a metal lunchbox
layered version of चपाती madewith oil
Bree Alexander (also Lika Posamari) is a multi-form Australian writer whose work has appeared with Eureka Street and Westerly, among others. She studied for a semester in Delhi in 2015 and continues to learn Hindi as she spends significant time in northern India. She was shortlisted for the Overland Fair Australia Prize 2018 (NTEU category) and she is the author of a poetry chapbook The eye as it inhales onions (in case of emergency press, 2018). She tweets sporadically @LaBree_A and blogs (mostly about films) at Roundly in the Eye.
My nephew was born during Diwali every dhamaka of every phataka rumbled through his body like an earthquake, and he couldn’t sleep
Years later, another Diwali another birth At dawn my mother rose from namaz to hear my daughter’s first cry What shall we name her, she asked meri jaano jigar, meri baade sabah?
Diwali didn’t always herald birth in my family my brother once set fire to a cane palm with lit phuljaris and stubbed mombattis We smouldered for days
Before our children interrupted Diwali our mother bought us payals and kangans and toe-rings in chaandi to appease a goddess she didn’t believe in
Now, that girl born at Diwali dawn wears chaandi and khadi and names her cat Tulsi What was it like, she asks growing up where everyone celebrated everything?
Notes and Glossary
The Hindu festival of Diwali is celebrated to honour the return of Lord Ram from exile. It is typically celebrated with the lighting of lamps and candles and is also known as the Festival of Lights. Silver and gold jewellery is bought to mark the festivities and appease the Goddess of Wealth.
Sab Ki Diwali – Everyone’s Festival of Lights dhamaka – Explosion phataka – Firecracker namaz – Muslim prayer meri jaano jigar – Endearment, loosely meaning heart of my heart meri baade sabah – A line of poetry, meaning early morning breeze; Sabah is also used as a name phuljaris – Sparklers mombattis – Candles chaandi – Silver payals – Anklets kangans – Bangles khadi – Coarse cotton tulsi – Sacred herb (basil), also used as a name
Rashida Murphy is a Perth-based writer and the author of The Historian’s Daughter (UWA Publishing, 2016). She is an Adjunct at Edith Cowan University. She runs workshops on writing at various writers centres and writes about identity and appropriation. Her poems, short stories and essays have appeared in national and international journals and anthologies.