From Delhi to Balasore

In that first photo, you have a bouffant updo and bangs
“The Sadhna cut was all the rage”
Squarish face, with just a hint of the heaviness that will come later.
Large eyes and a direct gaze. Not a hint of a smile.
Even for this, the biye-er chhobi.
It was perhaps this seriousness that got him—your serious professor.

You, Delhi born and bred, traveled to your bor’s home at the border of
Orissa and Bengal. Not for you the whole ghomta
that would hide your hip-length hair. Instead, you stand
behind the in-laws in the family photo. Demure, yet defiant
a miniscule part of the pallu covering your heard—a sensation right there.
“She was like Durga Thakur” the ultimate compliment by the older grannies.
More like Hema Malini, riposte the younger pishis.

After that first year, you start teaching.
“I had to do something. A housewife is never respected.”
You could never be still or “waste time”.
You stand next to me and Baba in that first color photo.
Half-open mouth, smiling, showing your slightly crooked front teeth.
Red sari and matching danglers.
A jaunty white scarf tying the hair in a bun at your nape.
When did you stop smiling like that?
And why?


biye-er chhobi—photograph sent to the groom’s family
pallu—end of a sari
pishis—Father’s sisters



I: The Beginning: Agra—Fatehpur Sikri

We hold hands all the time
You sneak hugs and kisses
I squirm, avoiding the eyes
Of the drivers, the passersby, the receptionists.
Husband and wife. Why lie?
You are such a child. This is how the world is.
I ignore the warning signs. I gaze instead at

The dusty roads interspersed with Aloo-puri kachori thelas.
The embroidery-like lattice work on the Chishti tomb
The young boys reciting reams of memorized shers
The bats hanging upside down
from carvings of “Raju loves Meena”
On creamy trellis patterns honoring
The saint who granted the Emperor a son
The burnt-out dull-red of sandstone buildings
The autos, the rickshaws, the lovers, the municipal workers, the guides
The fruit chaat shops next to the bus stand
The baby being breast-fed while the mangy dog circled around
The fake laughter of the women simulating the harem at Diwani-khwabgah
The flat slab in the Diwan Khana-i-Khass where the King sat
The courtyard where he played Pachisi using slaves as live pawns
The carved pomegranate tendrils on the Turkish Sultana’s Pavilion
The streaks of ochre rays lighting up the dingy corners of the Emperor’s tomb
The six feet of marble rectangles
The bodies underneath.

Everything ends. It must. But not just yet…



II: The End—Belur and Halebid

There are days when we don’t speak
Worse, when we do. Our talks equal caramelized accusations
You don’t care. You lie. You betray.
A joint vacation is planned. One last attempt
But: do we stay together? Openly? Go “public”?
The usual pit stops in our pot-holed journey.

Sitting in the Karnataka tourism bus. I am dry-eyed and alone.
Belur temples–a mela of sinuous, writhing figures
The dancer with a thorn in her foot. The beauty checking her reflection.
The guide points out the high heels and fashionable hairstyles on the ancient statues
The present day women in silk saris and vermilion flowers perform aartis
praying to the handsome six feet idol of Keshava

Halebid is chaotic. Busloads of school children scramble past the Nandi statues.
They giggle and take selfies while leaning against the obsidian pillar
The yakshas at the doorways grimace in the background—at any moment ready to pounce.
I run into a college friend—complete with her family.
Impulsively, I call you—violating the terms of our break-time treaty.
Hoy sala*—the boy kills the tiger in a single stroke and watches impassively
as I wait for you to answer.

*As per the prevalent legend, the command, ‘Hoy Sala!’ was given to Sala, a student, by his Guru to strike and kill a tiger attacking them. The boy did it in a single stroke, and as a blessing, the Guru told him to establish the Hoysala dynasty.



Miles on the Cycle

During those nightly rides on Delhi streets
The pump used to repair punctures
A recently acquired taste for Wasabi peanuts
A quartet of lemony serving bowls
A potted palm that thrives
A cinnamon bush that doesn’t
Crumbs from loaves of French bread
Striped mats used on dusty lawns of ancient gardens
A few books on love and other topics
More than a few photos and emails
A frying pan with a lid that is stainless
A red-and-black helmet that is not


Jonaki Ray

Jonaki Ray

Jonaki Ray has degrees in Chemistry and Computer Science from IIT Kanpur and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She works as a lead technical editor with an IT company, and writes, primarily fiction and poetry, in whatever time she can spare. Her work has been published in Silver Birch Press, The Times of India, Pyrta Journal, The Four Quarters Magazine, Out of Print blog, and Kitaab, among others. In Spring 2016, she was a Writer in Residence at Joya: AIR, an inter-disciplinary residency program in Spain.