Mihir Vatsa grew up in Hazaribagh, India, and currently attends Delhi University
for an MA in English.

My Mother Visits a Beauty Parlour

In the rickshaw, she tells me she must look good today.
(Not that a friend or a relative was coming to meet us)
I have some money to waste— Now, it's not every day she
makes extra cash, so I want to go to a restaurant instead.
But we go to the parlour, where I sit outside the glass door,
counting scooters on the road. In front of me hang
clothes for women. Saris with shiny things lining the borders,
mannequins sporting cotton salwaar suits. The next shop
has a row only for sanitary napkins. I remember the many
TV commercials with smiling women speaking about
freedom and other liberating nouns. An hour later, she
emerges from the parlour with shorter hair and sharper
eyebrows. How does your mom look now? I grunt
at her new hairstyle with an uncertain look, not knowing
that she would not speak to me for the next two days.

My Mother Drives her Alto at 20KMPH

So if you make faces in the mirror, she'd promptly
reiterate a safe driving quote: we are not racing against
anyone, are we dear?
Of course we aren't. So what
if it takes an hour to make a trip to the city market?
For all she cares, her feet are finally firm on the pedals,
her wrist focussed on the gears. She tells me, someday
she'd make a film on the woman driver, in slow motion,
& I tell her I could handle the money and other profits,
because despite the slowness, we both believe
in magic. After the vendors chanting the prices
of tomatoes, we cross a theatre in silence.
From our sides, uncles swoop past in their SUVs—
sneering, and smiling at my mother, who, determined
to move the Alto another ten yards, goes softly on
broken, stranger roads.

My Mother Writes a Poem

Sometimes, it's justified not to speak to anyone
after a long day at work. Not to care about the

utensils in the sink on which the gravy has dried
to build a ruin of the lost, devastated countries—

break into the silence in the living room because
ruins do not, and will never, ask questions.

On such days, my mother draws circles on the walls.
She copies those circles to a paper, transcribes

them into words, writes a poem on "true love".
For hours, she stares at the ceiling, thinking how

to indent a line when the meaning itself is skewed.
She writes and rewrites, till letters burn her face.

In its glow, she looks at her house after twenty six
years of marriage. It's a galaxy where no two planets

ever meet. Then, one by one, she starts throwing
the words out, like women abandoning their babies

on railway tracks. One by one, she puts two holes
in each paper, brings a wire from the store

to initiate a circuit, and watches the current
wipe the entire sheet clean.

An Unreliable Poem on Something Uncomfortable

The running road is charmed by the streetlamps,
& in the vaults of tarmac are the trapped fireflies.
From morning till night, the child waits
for him in what could be a garage.For food.
But it's a house, with bushes crowding the walls
and rain making the yellow quicklime black.
Sometimes, we look through the window, but don't
see any toys, photo books— we don't see a stove.
On some nights, we are reminded of the captives
in Andaman, their fight against the black waters.
Those are the nights of the storm and the sound
of a zip stretching into a pair of small iron teeth.
Everywhere, it smells of things dying in winter.
The child wants to put these teeth against
the skin of the father, to free the fireflies
from the chambers that shine like magic in the city—
but the father, with the smell of alcohol reeking
from his mouth, only grins. Drops his trousers,
commands— hold it.

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