My Amma’s Malayalam is Trivandrum slang,
shifting between simple
churidar and formal sari in a blink.
trishurpooram cacaphony is her laugh,
words the speed of onam boat races
on slow crashing waves of kovalam beach.
It is every spice bubbling
in my Ammuma’s cheenachatti,
both sweet sharkara and sour achar
Chutni podi with chilli podi by her hand.
Her Malayalam hits hard
Ammuma’s soft palms, Appupa’s rare playfulness;
Her Malayalam is a 22-year-old recipe, came along to flavour a desert.
My Amma’s english is accented
with Malayalam, from ancestral
beef fry to salmon grill
Other worlds and words with a twist of her own
Kovalam softened by corniche calm,
chilli podi, sounds of two cities, date syrup
and desert sand filling
the gaps in her english
“Yalla pogam!” She yells “Mafi Mushkil, Aathma!”
Sharkara lacing her laugh,
it echoes loudly in between
the buildings of Hamdan St.
Appupa said my laugh is like hers,
I carry it safe in my voice box.
My Malayalam is a mirror
of her slang, her lullaby my tongue
Trishupooram still resounding in them.
They complain they can’t understand her,
her laugh too loud, her accent too strong for their weak ears
They demand us altered for their palate
demand silence, compliance
for their tongues to handle.
Amma did not move
for me to be silent;
our laughs are trapped ancestral joy, they died
for the spices you came to our shores for,
they died. Our laughs are eulogy
folded into our voice boxes.
Does your tongue burn?
Here, have the water–
our laughter will not drown again
My Acha’s malayalam drips
on the page, fountain pen sprouting
rhymes, rhythms, words
of a Love, land,
home, no home, new home, old home,
dreams to come, dreams left behind,
shore he came to, shore he left,
a sea, a kadal that watched him come
and go over and over and over–
the second half of his life,
the first half he refuses to forget.
He polishes an english accent
with experience, age, command
and Malayalam slips in, a jewel found:
film comes filim, his english crashes
under Malayalam exclamation,
the language of his soul sees no barrier.
An architect of words, an architect of worlds
an architect on two shores, he built
poems, he built places,
built a love for words in his Molu,
built a home, a city for his daughter.
This new city gentrifies her tongue;
he wonders if he can build
a bridge, a boat for his daughter lost in the kadal
between the poems of his soul and
this new city she speaks of.
Artwork by Dayanita Singh “go away closer”