Lesh Karan: 'Our Mango Tree'

Lesh Karan reading ‘Our Mango Tree’

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, hamaare aam 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.


Glossary

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.

 

Bree Alexander: ‘In गति’

Bree Alexander reading ‘In Gati’

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


Word/phrase Transliteration Translation
गति gati  motion
आज़ादी āzādī freedom
दिल्ली dillī  Delhi
लंबे लोग lambe lōg tall  
शांत śānt peaceful
प्यार pyār love
परदेशी paradēśī   foreigner
ज़िंदगी zindagī life
खाना khānā food
चपाती chapātī  A flat bread from the subcontinent  
सब्ज़ी sabzī  vegetable
टिफिन  ṭiphin tiffin – a metal lunchbox
अचार achār pickle
पराठा parāṭhā  layered version of चपाती madewith oil
मेरे दोस्त mērē dōst my friends
धनिया dhaniyā coriander
हरी मिर्च harī mirch green chilli
आलू ālū potato
गोबी gōbī   cauliflower

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.

Rashida Murphy: Sab Ki Diwali

Rashida Murphy reading ‘Sab ki Diwali’

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.