Arriving Shortly

By K. Srilata

When amma came
to New York city,
she wore unfashionably cut
salwar kurtas,
mostly in beige,
so as to blend in,
her body
a puzzle that was missing a piece—
the many sarees
she had left behind:
that peacock blues
that nondescript nylon in which she had raised
and survived me,
the stiff chikan saree
that had once held her up at work.

When amma came to
New York city,
an Indian friend
who swore by black
and leather,
remarked in a stage whisper,

“This is New York, you know –
not Madras.
Does she realise?”

Ten years later,
transiting through L.A. airport
I find amma
all over again
in the uncles and aunties
who shuffle past the Air India counter
in their uneasily worn, unisex Bata sneakers,
suddenly brown in a white space,
louder than ever in their linguistic unease
as they look for quarters and payphones.
I catch the edge of amma’s saree
sticking out
like a malnourished fox’s tail
from underneath
some other woman’s sweater
meant really for Madras’ gentle Decembers.


"Arriving Shortly" by K. Srilata, Arriving Shortly (Kolkata: Writers Workshop, 2011).