Menika

Deft-handed, swirling rice-grains in clear water,
Pouring the white stream from pot to pot
she said:
I would like to go back to the village next week
There is a court case
I am reclaiming my children, two daughters, from their father
He has another woman

Neat-handed, kneading coriander and cumin
on the smooth stone
she said:
My father made the marriage
There were good fields and much fine property
My father inspected the fields, my brother went with him,
They all agreed it was a good match
Two weeks after the marriage he brought her back to the house

The pestle rising, falling, in her practised hands
the grain in the mortar crumbling to powder
she said:
We lived eighteen years in that house
My children with me in one room, she with him in the other
One day a relation of his came in, asking for a measure of rice
I did not think to refuse it
That night he came home drunk, and said I was giving away
the household goods

Spreading the grain in the sun to dry
she said:
When he beat me before the neighbours I sent for my father
He came and took me away
When we signed the register at the Police Station
The Sergeant said: What a man is this!
To make such a shameful to-do over a measure of rice!

She looks after my children well, they tell me
But they are daughters, can I allow them to become women
and far away from me?

On the day of the court case, her skin smoothly powdered,
a crimson sari knotted at her neat waist, her hair
combed into shining coils on her slender neck
she said:
He is a good man
There is no fault in him

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