My Aunt's Hair

By Maitreyee B Chowdhury 

Winter afternoons lie horizontal
and pickled in long hair-
while I look through photographs of my mother,
aunt, and their mother- my grandmother
before she lost her country, her mind
and then set fire to her hair.

In each of these pictures they are singing,
to someone I cannot see-
their long winter hair an eclipse,
from where I memorise their songs,
of my history, being sung out to me.

Moth eaten, charcoal black pages,
of photographs stuck in gilded golden corners-
now bear witness
to this story of song and hair.
Grows leaves and sprouts flowers
like the Kalpavriksha.

The winter after,
the doctors put my grandmother in an asylum-
cut her hair, tie her hands, and put her in a wheel chair.
My aunt, since then has stopped tying her hair-
an old rebellion, now futile.

But on days when the orange is just ripe
and the sun a crimson ball,
my daughter and I, we sit in the same yard
where grandmother’s songs still live.
Her hair fans out,
covers the river, washes sorrow-
we become yesterday and tomorrow
in the intimacy of continuity,
and thunder down both
as only memory can.

To be able to comb another’s hair is love,
to be able to breathe that crisp love, is to find home.
Hair becomes the language of memory,
Swish -swish- swish
familiar whispers between women,
secrets only they know how to sing.

I pass on my comb to my daughter,
from the shores of a sea side now forgotten.
Tomorrow when she sits at the foot of my trembling bed
and watches my hair like childhood rain-
she, will learn her history though kept hair,
turn singer
in another winter afternoon, horizontal.

* Kalpavriksha- Mythological, wish fulfilling tree.

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