On a street corner in Garhwaal
There we stood, she and I
waiting for the same bus
And she sat
on the steps of a shop close by
holding her eight month old daughter
firmly away from her breasts
as if to hide from the eyes of the crowd
her drained, dried up body.
Over and over again, the baby rubbed her mouth against the woman’s breast
and her mother stuffed the rubber nipple of a water bottle
into that stubborn mouth
And over and over again, the little baby girl
skinny and resolute
would push the bottle away, clinging only to her mother’s breasts.
Her thirsty, determined mouth first searched those breasts
and then cried out uncontrollably, screaming in desperate hunger.
And there I stood, just two steps away
quietly watching this like a sinner
a sinner, whose sin was not that I left my own infant daughter
in the US, to “research” women’s struggles in India
but the sin of that cruel disparity
which, instead of wetting that woman
had drenched my shirt with milk
which, despite my intense pain
prevented me from holding that child against my own chest.
That very same disparity that stood between me and that woman
like a rock, dead set on squashing out this difficult, partial dialogue between us
before it could become anything more than
a long, burdened muteness.