She shuddered, screamed, gorging up in flames
Stumbled upon her own shadow,
The black clouds of despair.
The flames devoured her, burnt sienna,
The vapor and choking odor of fire
And crushed desires. The bathroom door creaked,
The smell of flesh and skin, tattered, lost, the tears
Sliding up and down the labyrinth of pain,
She kicked the door, pushed her face, flickering
Towards the window, she had known the futility
Of this scream, this rush to live, on the verge of surrender.
“Help, help, I want to live”, ‘for one last time,
I want to live”, the thick fog of men, and women,
Family, neighbors, sliding around, contemplating,
Inch by inch, witnessed a devouring, broke open
The door, the charred flesh recoiled, stockpiled against
Their ceaseless inquiries. “Why did she do this?”
A hunched, elderly lady frowned. “How could she do this?”
A middle-aged housewife cried out. “Let’s rush to the hospital.
We may still have chance. Maybe the doctors can save the baby still.”
Her young son said; he flung his arms around the body in smoke,
Others poured buckets of water, to pacify the flames.
In the narrow front porch, where the queries and smells
Of the smoke reiterated in fragmented bursts,
Her toddler son of three chortled as he caught ants and frolicked
With the stray dogs. The child was searching for
His first learnt words, hashing and rehashing,
“Mother, mother, Maa, my Maa”. They took her away,
The world came around him in a maze, haunting, deep, dark,
Implausible, like his newly learnt words, pauses, phrases.
The flesh surrendered, slipped into an infinite void.
Inside the latched door of a surgical ward, doctors struggled
To evacuate a charred human fetus from a fire consumed womb.
The girl fetus had a blue tinge of sky in her furrowed forehead,
Her silken hair, tousled, smoked, mirrored her mother’s,
She gripped her fading earth, her last breaths, hanging loose,
Interspersed with her mother’s last, dying embers.
The earth didn’t shatter with this half-baked tragic tale,
She was a femme fatale, after all,
And the girl breathing inside her would trail after her,
For sure….words splashed along, riding in waves,
Waxing and waning, the neighborhood lapped up the waves.
In a household of ten people, a husband, and his kith and kin,
Each a furious, complaining drone, her tears regenerated each night.
Her kitchen chores, her fasts, and religious obeisance,
The cups of tea she made, her humming presence, a threat to
The sound and fury of their thundering voices.
At twenty four, married, with a toddler son, in a family
Of patriarchs grumbling, and well-meaning matriarchs
Looming above her, she gulped spoonful’s of their want
Gagged, clenched her lips, serving up hot dinners.
Nostalgia, music, books and old friends, emaciated memories
Forlorn, burning through the night sky.
The husband would come to her, grope her in between
Frantic, long distance office trips. Their love whispered,
Rolled around, surreptitiously,
A grey, forbidden piece of fabric.
She was the unexpected gust of wind, flinging her presence
Too fast, a witch, ensnaring their son, their brother
With her furtive eyes, her thick curls, her frail melodies.
In months and years, the magic potion they whispered
In his ears, worked. She was truly a witch, slapped, snapped
Drugged into silence; the words he spoke to her,
Transformed to a darkening quiet.
She had hidden the torn, dead skin of her nightmares,
She smiled, sang lilting love songs in the terrace,
Hugged the coconut tree, its leaves canopying her afternoons.
In a terrace right across, a wistful young man had played his flute.
All day, she chased her truant toddler, a kite in the verdant air
In the afternoon, the young neighbor held in his arms
The chuckling child, fluttered their wings together.
In the terrace, their surreptitious glances floated
In clusters of poetry, the shades of her desire,
Scarlet, bronze, earthen, pastel, unveiled in the untimely rain.
The flutist and the poet caressed her scars,
Their glances intersected often at the tulsi plant,
The courtyard, the porch and the neighboring pond.
His blood had boiled as he had clasped her papery wrists
One night, taking in the last drops of monsoon; he urged her
To take along her sleeping toddler, elope with him.
Her ornate vermilion has smudged, she looked in his eyes
In tarnished stupor, for one last time, and then, a bang
In her head, followed by vehement kicks and curses.
In the dark crevices of her womb, a sapling had breathed,
Rustled, moved and drifted, the dwindling promise
Of a tainted embrace.
“This kultaa, this dreadful promiscuous woman has brought
Shame to us, opened the door to hell. She’d better be
Off our sight”, they hissed to her at night.
One by one, they paraded in the room, their footsteps,
Dense, their sounds, menacingly cold. “We want the child
Ripped apart, finished by tomorrow, and this, our final word!”
The bathroom door latched the next morning, the fire
And the flames draped her like a quilt.
Red, withering, flickering, lapped up by the embers,
While her breath choked, for the last few fragmented moments,
She screamed to live, while the sapling inside her
Wiggled, fluttered, withered, burned.
For years, the neighborhood hummed this half-baked tragic tale,
She was a femme fatale, after all,
And the girl breathing inside her would have trailed after her,
If she had been alive, for sure.
Note: Based on real life stories, interspersed with some fictional elements, dedicated to the beautiful lives of women in India, nipped in the bud.