MUTENESS

Richa Nagar, Translated from original poem in Hindi, Chuppi, 2002

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.

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