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Once I was Prince - Part One

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Once I was Prince - Part One

 for Granny Letchumi (b. fin 19th C. - d. 1978)

Once i was a prince in your highbeamed palm-thatched house
  timber and stone
   of hardened mud and cold green shiny cement
in your village ribbed with drying splintering palmleaf fences
  buttressed by ferns
palmyra jackfruit mango trees standing solitary sentinel in compound corners

then just for a month
   i was a prince in your eyes
i hazarded the Bay of Bengal on a lolling steamer
  and watched in unbelief naked children dive for coins in the Nagapattinam offshore anchorage
  just to be with you
   still a teeny dreamy youth
and there you were
   afraid that your village ways might irk me
   make me want to go back before time

the day i arrived a double murder in the island
   a day or two earlier another
vendetta vengeance wreaked in blood for slights of caste contraventions
    other threats other life-taking threats for mere unintended insults innuendoes injuries
to the state of one’s birth
 to the validity of one’s finance 
   one’s moral upstandingness 
   one’s looks 
   one’s genealogy 
a longdrawnout court case for the plucking of a ripe mango from an overhanging branch in the neighbour’s compound

sitting squat on your two firm broiled scarred feet
your coarse borderless demure saree stretched to its apparent tatters
 your stalwart all-bearing sturdiness masked in that humble crouching posture
 your rough-rolled cheroot smouldering on the edge of the kitchen-patio cemented mudfloor
and rolling off the corner of the wallbacked seat from where you listened to the swish swish of my coming down the fine sand-filled path rising swiftly furtively only to prepare the ceremonial washing of my feet hands face with the natural coolness from your own ancestral well the chembu as you reverently tilted it giving off just that much of thrashing water into my upturned cupped hands
 your meloncholy dreamy gaze riveted on my face my hands my hair my feet recalling perhaps the husband you moaned and whom I had never seen not even in a word-picture
your eyes those bee’s full-trusting warm honey-coloured ensconced within sharply falling epicanthic folds watching without imposing but who knows how nostalgically
your fear of touching me with those toil-knotted fingers lest I recoil worn yet tender frail still strong from serving two husbands over half a century lest I inadvertently even make a gesture that might make you feel unlike someone of your highborn bridal glory

(Continued in Part Two)

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