Friday, April 29, 2016


I left home –
and I breathed
clean air for the first time, Ma.

Never mind that
it was Chennai Central,
reeking of grime and filth and sweat
and metal and watery coffee

This air was free

This air never breathed in
the guilt we etched on your pores
for daring to hold a passport
to the Island of Insanity –

we, of the Nation of Normalcy

This air never heard the chilankas
of duty

clatter in alarm

as you danced across the Line of Control

the water tugging at your ankles
first, and then your thighs and hips
and torso

dragging down under
even your untameable hair

This air never saw you
resurface –

kicking and biting and punching
and spitting at dad

who waits patiently every single time
you sail away

and this air never saw you wear my angry hands
like a life-jacket

my hands – laden with Dicorate and Mirnite
and Ativan – oblong grey pills and tiny white tablets
whose generic names and dosages
I could tell you even today

(Valproic Acid. 700 mg. Mirtazapine. 7.5 mg.
Lorazepam. 1 mg.)

and this air
never saw me Google their chemical structures
on the eve of my 12th standard board exams

trying to place my grief and fatigue
within double bonds and
hydroxyl groups and benzene rings

This air never touched pencil tips
broken by my failure
to figure out how your terrified screams

defied all known laws of physics

and drilled through floors and walls
and doors and my skin of steel

with a force it never should have had.

When I left home, Ma,
for the first time in seventeen years
I breathed air that was free of you.

I breathed air that was free,
or so I thought until yesterday
when the blindfold slipped

and I saw air
coiled round and round like a
stubborn umbilical cord

spoonful after spoonful of memories
down my forgetful throat:

me burying my face into the folds
of a nightie faintly smelling of onions

you holding my shaking hand
through the haunted house of trigonometry

us rolling eyes at my sister’s terrible puns

over cups of coffee made exactly the way I like it,
loaded with milk and heaped with sugar –

the rich steam wafting into my nostrils
from across seven hundred kilometres

I choke.
The air refuses to budge.
I scream.
The noose tightens.
I panic, sending papers flying everywhere,

if gravitational force was inversely proportional to
the square of distance between two objects?
when the cartoon anvil struck –

Newton was right, after all, and I was wrong
I never left home, Ma.
I never left home.

A homesick musing on my relationship with my mother, who has struggled with clinical depression since her college days, weathering prejudice and judgement along the way. 

To your resilience, your strength. To you, umma. With all my love.