Watermelons sound like a pretty
innocuous theme for a poem,
The watermelons of my Bombay days
are no ordinary watermelons
They deserve a poem.
Words sway on the page
like the bullock cart
ambling down the road
by my childhood house,
bringing the luscious fruit
Home to us, carefully piled high.
The bullocks are tired
tails patiently swishing flies
the jingling of bells around the their necks
The watermelons don’t have an opinion
I wonder what they would say
If they could speak!
The rush of housewives
Sarees flapping in the summer breeze
like washing on a clothesline,
the high-pitched bargaining voices
that greet bullock cart and fruit
might frighten the beasts
The road flavored by the promise of watermelon juice
Will play truant.
I watch in fear of the bullocks.
They are so tall, I am so small
I want to be part of the scene.
They shake their horns from side to side
The crowd gasps, the children step back
Then move forward again bravely
Watermelons on their minds.
My mother had a theory
she usually did for most things.
The greener the melon
on the outside, the sweeter the fruit
on the inside.
So with characteristic determination
she points to the melon
at the bottom of the pile
(Can’t do that at the SuperMarket here!)
she will have no other.
I plead with her to be reasonable
The bullock cart driver remains unfazed
Smiles, obligingly pulls out the one she wants,
I turn red as the watermelon, from embarrassment.
Secretly, I wished he had refused
The one at the top would have done as well.
The mountain of watermelons crumble,
they scatter down the street
The urchins help to retrieve the runaways
they seem to appear magically in rain or shine.
My mother is satisfied,
She predicts the fruit will be sweet!
We children eat
In humble silence.
We’re not allowed to slurp
(Bad manners, she says),
the dripping juice
slides down the side of our mouths
wondering how all her theories
about relationships between color and sweetness
had a ring of truth to them.
Whenever I buy watermelons
eat it sliced or diced
with splashes of lemon, sprinkles of sugar
Indian chat masala or Mexican Tajin,
the bullocks and mother appear
permanently etched into each slice
Sweetening the memory and the fruit.
Sea Facing Flat
Mother’s small but specific dreams
dictated her new-home choices,
budget featured prominently in her vocabulary.
Dreaming of moving from our rented flat
to an ownership flat
Ownership became the buzzword
No compromising on requirements
No settling for less.
She had an unyielding list.
if such a flat was not available
She would not move
it was as simple as that.
She said I was a stubborn child
She didn’t tell me where I got that from?
The lift (we used the British word) in our old building
belonged to a different century
The whole building trembled
like an earthquake
Shuddering and hurtling up and down
From floor to floor
The lift was too close to the kitchen
It made the curry wobble on the stove
The eggs flipped by themselves in the pan
It rattled mother’s nerves.
Mother wanted a ground floor flat
No lift necessary.
I always took the stairs
when visiting friends
The fear of getting stuck
In limbo between floors.
The pandemic has done that
Placed us in limbo
I’m still ‘floating’ between worlds
I hear the tremors of the old lift
I could avoid the lift, not so the pandemic.
Mother’s new flat should be sea-facing
(even the sea seemed to agree)
Plenty of light entering the rooms
at the right angles,
the light must bow to her demands
Something about mother
made the elements obey her wishes.
Her list continues:
two washrooms, running water,
in a quiet neighborhood
(quiet Bombay, an oxymoron!)
where the night watchman did not
beat his stick to disturb her sleep
in the name of scaring away the thief.
If she didn’t find the right flat
She would dig her heels in
Stay where she was
where she could hear the sea, smell the sea
Now she wanted to see the sea
Not the road and the Bombay traffic.
The garden could not be left out
from her list. In the old flat
It was where she lived her inner life, outside.
I want to go flat hunting with mother
Can’t do that now, she has made her home elsewhere.
There are bright lights where she is
She might need sunglasses.
Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca was born in Bombay to Prof. Nissim Ezekiel and Daisy Ezekiel. She attended Queen Mary’s School, St. Xavier’s College, Bombay University and Oxford Brookes University, U.K. She holds Bachelor’s and Masters’ Degrees in English, American Literature and Education. Her career spanned over four decades in Indian colleges, American International Schools and Canada, teaching English, French and Spanish. Kavita has published two books of poetry, ‘Family Sunday and Other Poems’ and ‘Light of The Sabbath.’ Her poems have appeared in several anthologies, including the two editions of the Yearbook of Indian Poetry in English, the Journal of Indian Literature published by the Sahitya Akademi, and other online journals of poetry. Her poem ‘How to Light up a poem’ was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She also writes Nonfiction.
Her poetry page is at https://www.facebook.com/kemendoncapoetry and she blogs at https://kavitaezekielpoetry.com/ .