An old-fashioned letter by Cherrie Chhangte

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Cherrie Chhangte teaches in the Department of English Mizoram University. Apart from teaching, she is also into creative writing. The Naga Republic brings a collection of her poetry

 

An Old-fashioned Letter

 

Times like this, I think of you, my unattainable

Object of desire.

Concrete towers obscure evening sunsets

Leaving me to guess what lies beyond

Their impenetrability.

I rely on remembrances

of mellow twilights

And the sky’s panorama of mottled pastel hues

As day draws to a close.

 

The restless city lights are alive, my love.

Cars, buildings, streets, ablaze.

Once in Tanhril, on a deserted road,

My headlights went out.

You should have seen the darkness.

Pitch black. Utterly black and alive.

Here it is never dark.

We have bought blackout curtains.

 

We trade one thing for another,

One attachment for another.

Darkness or light, darkness or light?

And still we end up with both.

My hills are home, and yet, not home,

I imagine myself a long-lost cousin

Who is as restless as these blinking lights,

Happy to be home, but glad to leave too.

The city neither rejects nor embraces,

You simply carve out meanings for yourself

Out of the noise, the tastes, the smells,

Until everything comes back to remembering,

A return to the beginning,

One balmy evening in July.

Truths and lies, mornings and twilights,

hills and plains,

While concrete keeps blocking my view.

Darkness and light, darkness and light.

 

PLEDGE

 

India is my country.

A piece of paper

And the whims of the powerful

Made it so.

Some protested,

Others did not,

Most did not have a choice.

 

All Indians are my brothers and sisters,

I find siblings can be very different.

 

I love my country, and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.

My country is not always proud of me

And does not always remember my heritage.

I tell myself it loves me back.

 

I shall always strive to be worthy of it,

Although worth is measured

In terms I do not understand.

 

I shall give my parents, teachers and all elders respect

And treat everyone with courtesy;

Even the man who feels entitled to rape me

Or abuse my man

Because we look different.

Yes, I will answer with courtesy

Every time someone asks

If I am from China.

 

To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion –

For what it’s worth.

Devotion. Devotee. Devoted.

Words to chew on.

 

In their wellbeing and prosperity alone lies my happiness,

And in my wellbeing and prosperity alone

Lies the future of the nation.

 

It Is the Oldest Story

 

It is the oldest story in the world,

Boy meets girl meets boy,

And the frantic dance begins.

Meanwhile, somewhere

In a soulless city

A girl is raped

For having chinky eyes.

 

And the plot unveils itself

As new, unfamiliar faces

Play old, familiar roles.

The hunter and the hunted

All too willing to be captured.

Meanwhile, in the Capital,

A boy is killed

For having blond hair.

 

The twists in the tale are old;

As she eats up every line he delivers

And wrings clammy hands in agonized indecision,

He proposes to another.

Meanwhile, in Bangalore,

A boy ends his own life,

Bullied to death.

 

The story is told again and again,

Already worn, and always new,

A mere tale,

And much more than a tale.

A girl betrayed by her love,

People betrayed by their country,

The story is old, and remains the same.

Do not tell me that old, old story again.

 

Grandmother

 

My Grandmother gave birth to twelve babies

A brood of daughters interspersed here and there with boys –

Three sons surrounded by an abundance of girls,

And before the youngest, a girl, was quite grown up,

My grandmother quietly died

As if to say her life’s work was done.

 

Grandfather was the star of the family,

He of the strange, anti-colonial name,

Grandson of a famous warrior,

Son of a fierce father,

Heir to a rather manly legacy,

Holder of a Government job.

 

Her son, the eldest, fought for Independence,

Not the one for India, the one from India.

Somewhere in between was Grandmother,

Wife of a sarkar employee

Mother of an Insurgent,

Leader of a bevy of daughters,

And somewhere in between, her story got lost.

 

Now nobody except her daughters

Can recall how late she slept at night,

How she mollified husband and children alike,

Nor how early she awoke to feed husband and little ones,

Helped by the older girls,

And how she slipped out under the cover of darkness

To give Uncle food lovingly wrapped in plantain leaves

As much as she could spare from feeding

So many hungry mouths.

 

We knew her as an old woman

When she died at fifty eight;

Her forbearance kept her silent

About the many years of struggles

And the pain of cancer that devoured her

All too quickly.

In the tale of heroes,

Warriors, fighters,

Grandmother’s story is lost.

But those who remember her

Recall how fair her skin was,

And how, in her time,

She was the prettiest of the village maidens,

Like most grandmothers are.

 

Aftermath

 

You would, perhaps, have me write poems

Of bittersweet love on sun-kissed mornings,

Of how our sandalled feet splashed

Across pavements on rainy afternoons

When monsoon downpours burst

upon us in orgasmic urgency,

Brief moments of ecstasy that left us drenched,

The aftermath infinitely more permanent than the event.

 

Aftermaths-  that is what it always crumbles to,

Like the precarious towers made of dreams

That we are so adept at building.

How I dreamt that you would be my saviour

From the neurotic web of nothingness

That ensnares me in its fatal allure!

And how you dreamt that I-

I in my fear disguised as calm –

Would embody every pristine boyhood dream you had,

Before the scarlet of betrayed hopes

Left that stain across your battered soul.

 

Ah, but dreams are fragile, sweetheart,

As you and I well know,

For they crumble to dust

With an untimely question,

A half-articulated doubt,

A wing clipped in mid-flight.

 

The house of cards you built yesterday

Could not withstand your deep soul-weary sigh.

So we stand across each other

In the debris of the aftermath,

Weighed down by the failure

Of the punchline that was never delivered,

And the climax that never came.

Yes, I think I will write poems

Of bittersweet love on sun-kissed mornings.

 

 

Lament of the Scorned

 

I am your Jezebel,

The curse you spit out

Along with the blood red

Juice of betel that

Oozes from corners

Of lips that formerly

Caressed, cajoled, captivated

With truths uttered unawares

By the same lips

Now denied.

I am Delilah,

Your downfall.

I am your drug,

Your shame,

Your reluctant high.

I am the discarded,

The one you stone

With relief

And

Some guilt.

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