Hey, sister, you can't enter the house

Cath Slugget

Through the front door

Our living is a backdoor affair;
O Mistress of the house … I am here
Could you please serve me something good?
A little watery rice kanji
with a piece of sweet jaggery is enough.

the mistress pours water into
the half-eaten rice and dumps it
into the top half of the sari
held open:
The water drains out
we wash the rice and eat it.
We have to wash all the dishes,
the menstrual clothing.
It is the way we survive.
If the master is at home
his wife or the children
cannot laugh out loud.
You cannot touch the master
at other times.
Even when he asks for water,
you serve him
then duck by the wall
and hide.
You don't develop an intimacy
by standing closely by them.
Sometimes you wonder
how these mistresses
marry and live with their men.
the master goes to the jungle
to hunt for elephants
He leaves at dawn and comes back late
he comes back a couple of days late.
Knowing this
the men come sneaking
in to fool,
to slake their desire.
Our business depends
on begged food
and a turned eye.
We know nothing, the mistress thinks.

When we return
from the funerals
there is a gypsy
reading the mistress:
"The Lady's face shows a shadow;
Inside her heart,
there is an agitation.
You have a relationship
with a man the master knows not.
But this is never a sin
nor is it a fault,
for the lady
has the blessings of the
Mother Goddess."
When the old woman finishes
reading the omens
the mistress enjoins
her to silence
and then feeds her
hot rice and curry
and sends her away with new clothes.
And in this way both their
hungers are sated.
By N D Rajkumar
Translated from Tamil by Anushiya Sivanarayanan

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Himal Southasian