Sujata Bhatt


In the morning, while Kalika combs
her seven-year-old daughter’s glossy tangled hair,
she looks at her face in the mirror;
red-eyed, worn out,
she feels she has grown into a mangy stranger overnight.
Her daughter’s face: wide open eyes
so much like her mother’s
who died last night
in a diabetic coma.

As Kalika parts the hair in the centre,
a straight line curving down
the back of her daughter’s head;
she remembers, five years ago
blisters on the back of her mother’s head
grew and grew, never healing,
her mother’s scalp cracked and bleeding
until the doctor shaved off
the waist-length thick grey hair
and tightly bandaged the head.

As Kalika watches her daughter open the door
the sun falls on the bright red ribbons
flowering at the ends of the freshly made braids,
and there is her mother in a red sari,
walking towards the sound of temple bells.
Green herbs, white jasmine in her hands,
tiny red blossoms woven in her coiling hair.

Later, tearing out sticky cobwebs
from corners in the high ceiling,
while jabbing at fleeing spiders with a long-handled broom,
Kalika winces, glances out the window
and sees her daughter on the lawn
struggling with her doll’s matted hair.