Listening to Mukesh

Driving to your block,
I slide in my father’s cassette
of old Hindi songs and I am
humming in twilight
to the legendary
playback singer’s baritone
releasing those sounds in that
language that makes me feel like I am
home. In the back of my throat,
I can taste my grandmother’s
translucent thin chappatis
that as children we would
hold up
to the light,
the dough so evenly rolled out
by her hands that not
one lump would show.
I never appreciated them till her hands
shook so much,
she could no longer grip
the rolling pin.

I hear the children from the slum
that emerged behind my grandparents
small two-storey apartment block.
They are swearing
in that deliciously punctuated rhythm
only the born-and-bred tongue
can dance to.

I am home for a while.
I can smell dust and kerosene
in the air and hear
high-pitched devotions to the gods
blending without objection
into the stone thud bass
of the latest film song.

Jamming my brakes at a traffic light,
I realise home is supposed to be these
dustless streets and the smells
are alien culinary concoctions,
like pig’s knuckles and chicken anatomy,
that my migrant tastebuds
cannot migrate towards.
I have taught my tongue
to like the garlic sting
of Hainanese chili paste
and form some Hokkien curse words.
It even enjoys the harsh bite of it,
but it is not
a taste, a language
that makes my heart sing
like these notes on my
car stereo.

Jaoon kaha batayen dil,
Duniya badi hain sangdil
Chandini Aiyen Ghar Jalane
Sujhe Na Koyi Manzil.

Tell me where I should go
in a world filled with indifference.
The moonlight filters into my house,
But I do not belong,
nor can I think of a destination.

By Pooja Nansi


(First published in Stiletto Scars: Word Forward, 2007.)