Do you know how to buy one hand of flowers,
Or roll a round chapati?
You who stand up for women
Can you cut up love and affection
And boil it up in the sambar
Like I do for you every day?
Well, don’t. Just plait our daughter’s hair
And plait in a hand-length of jasmine
And send her off to school.
Else just make pongal in the morning
And put it in a clean dabba before
Your daughter is awake and clamours
For her toothepaste, uniform.
No. Well, alright.
Can you bring rice to a boil,
So its aroma makes the house blossom?
Can you show happiness, day after day,
While washing clothes and folding them,
Sweeping and mopping the house,
Washing dishes thick with congealed ghee
And never, ever complain
While your wife writes silly poems?
No? Not even for a day?
You can make the flowers bloom,
And the spring come early.
Just make a crying child smile.
You make words dance and sing,
Just put a child to sleep.
You paint pictures with words,
One kolam pattern outside the house?
Okay, you’re not going to grind rice and make crisp dosais,
You’ll make me one tumbler of coffee?
(Chellamal was wife to Subramania Bharathi, the most eminent of modern Tamil poets. Apart from nationalism and anti-casteism, he was an advocate for women’s rights, especially education.)
(Longlisted by the RaedLeafPoetry-India 2013 Awards)