My Mother’s Altar
Children have doll’s houses.
Grown-ups have altars.
Morning and evening, Grandma
and Ma manage the gods’
roster alongside their own.
Waking them up, bathing
them, feeding them breakfast,
adorning them with flowers,
lighting the evening lamp for them,
putting them to sleep.
On a two-tiered wooden shelf,
a house within a house, the gods
live. Every few months Ma
makes them new clothes.
Zari-bordered red and white
saris and dhotis. Gods like to
dress up too, on occasion.
She doesn’t feel all that spiritual
when at the altar. The worries
of the world, her life crowd
her mind. Yet she returns
to this place of fire and incense
smoke, flowery fragrance
and remembered rituals
every morning and evening.
Because this, to
not forget, to show up,
to care if only out of habit,
this is worship too.
The Walking Sari Shop
Babaji carried a whole sari shop
on his arched shoulder. This isn’t
figurative, for every Sunday, the
man from Rajasthan, his beard
flowing like a waterfall down his
deep-forest face, brought saris,
new and affordable,
for my mother to stock up on office wear.
When he opened the fat bundle and
spread it on the floor, it was an
intermission for him and Ma, both
gleaning succour off the patterns
on the cotton drapes bandhnis and
lahariyas, small pink flowers
sweeping a whole white field.
Buying saris from shops was an
unattainable wish for Ma. You had
to pay in full there, not the comforting
instalments Babaji accepted with a smile.
Ma retired and the weekly rivers of
cotton stopped flowing on our floors.
Babaji retreated too from our lives,
not voluntarily but still. Mother can
now buy saris from shops by paying
full price. She no longer needs
to stock up on her wardrobe.
Bhaswati Ghosh writes and translates fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Her first book of fiction is Victory Colony, 1950. Her first work of translation from Bengali into English is My Days with Ramkinkar Baij. Bhaswati’s writing has appeared in several literary journals. She lives in Ontario, Canada, and is currently working on a book on New Delhi. Outside the world of writing, Bhaswati enjoys travelling and cooking.