In July 2009 on June 30, 2009 at 8:26 pm

What You Said

by Jessica Bozarth

Sound shadows
Spoken when last you lay here.
I was afraid and cast them away.
They fell behind the bed and waited.

Tonight, crawling from underneath, they escaped.
Absent without leave; found their way back to my head.
The whispered words skitter through my brain,
trailing tracks of dust behind them.
They wrestled my fears to the ground.

You were so clever to leave them uncollected
Knowing they were an incantation.

Where The Bee Hives Stood Sentinel While the Young Ones Played

by Shakuntala Rajagopal

A courtyard where two beehives stood attention between a fig tree and a breezeway that led from a kitchen work area to a bathroom with window that opened to a well, was the center of my existence at the time.

I was five years old, I remember, because it was the year my mother presented me with one more sister and it was also the year that I started kindergarten.

On the far end, this gardened area was bounded by a brick wall, maybe five feet tall, which separated the hustle and bustle of a road that went from the center of Trivandrum town to the Chalai market and on to the main highway which took you all the way to the southern tip of India, Kanya Kumari, also known as Cape Coumarin.

The opposite end of this garden was defined by the above mentioned breezeway.  Parapet walls on both sides of the breezeway provided welcome seating to my three year old sister Shanthi and me as we watched my amma and her sister, my ammachi, tend to the flowers that touted a variety of colors from the sparkling white jasmines to the pale lavender cosmos and the smooth petals of the pink roses that contrasted with the prickly thorns which effectively kept them safe from two busy little girls who could not keep their hands off of any blooming thing.  The pleasant bouquet of jasmines and roses blended with the strong scents of chrysanthemums.  The pink oleanders were not planted in this area because their pungent odor was not welcome here.  Instead, they were in the front yard where their huge bushes rubbed shoulders with the mighty hibiscus plants.

To the left of us, as we perched on the low parapet walls, were two long steps leading to a door of my Doctor ammoomma’s bedroom, and beside her bed and dresser was a table where her stethoscope rested when she was home.  This was also where Shanthi and I slept, on mattresses that unfolded at bedtime, but were rolled and put away during the day.  Also on the floor, our Adukkala ammoomma, Kitchen grandmother, slept beside us.  Although I was aware she oversaw the kitchen ladies at their tasks, (hence the name kitchen grandmother), and the errand boy who went to the market for fish every day, I felt that she was my own guardian angel who looked after me.  She made sure I ate the last ball of rice and curds on my plate that my amma made for me, and urged me to finish my daily alphabet-writing practice before I got into trouble with my ammachi when she returned from the University where she worked.

The bathroom wall formed the fourth boundary for this delightful corner of my world at five.  Entering the bathroom from the breezeway, the window in the wall to the right opened to a well, complete with a bucket on a rope and pulley, used to draw water on to a huge clay pot set atop a wood-burning stove to heat the water for bathing.  When this window was closed for privacy, the rope and bucket were swung out to the outer half of the water-well, where the amenities included separate areas for washing clothes, for washing kitchen pots and utensils and for cleaning the fresh fish from the market, sometimes twice in one day.

I was fascinated by the way the wood-burning stove was set half inside and half outside the bathroom wall and how the wood was fed from outside the bathroom.  A chimney setup above this stove funneled the smoke out.  Looking back, the ingenuity and the engineering were marvels that I appreciated, but was too young to fully comprehend.

Every three months or so, the theineechakaran, honey-man, came to our beehives.  He wore a pant-suit and boots that covered his entire body.  He placed a large rimmed hat on his head, and pulled down the protective netting around his face and neck.  Long gloves completed his work habit.  We were allowed to watch from Doctor ammoomma’s bedroom window while he expertly smoked the bees into a box he carried.  Once the queen bee was in his trap, he waved to us.  We were then allowed to go out and see how he gingerly picked up honey combs, placed them in his barrel with a handle on the outside that he cranked, (a manual centrifuge of sorts), and extracted the honey into dripping pans through cotton-lined sieves.  When one hive was done, he would give us pieces of the honeycomb to suck out drops of honey from the crannies.  Then he chased us back in, and proceeded to retrieve the honey from the second one.  Once we had some honey to savor, we lost interest in the proceedings.  But, to finish our lesson, ammachi called us back to see the honey-man place the queen bee back into the bee hive, and showed us how the remaining bees swarmed back in without further ado.  Even though our tummies were fed, ammachi did not waste any occasion to feed our brain. The fig tree only gave fruit occasionally, probably once or twice a year.  Each time it did, the anticipation on ammachi’s face as she awaited their ripening was a family joke.  When the fruit was of a certain size, she wrapped them with gauze to protect them from the crows.  Each ripe fruit was tenderly sliced and she ruefully shared them with us.  I still remember my amma declining her share, so that ammachi, her sister could have more.  They were close, then.

My Gardens in this part of the continent, with its harsh winters, could not sustain tropical blooms or a fig tree. They thrive in my heart and mind, always.

At times, in the deep freeze of January, when grey skies cloud over me and all of Chicago-land is blanketed by miles and miles of white snow, when even the green tops of tall evergreens have turned snow-white, the chill seeps into my heart and drags me down.  I close my eyes and see the patch of sunlight upon the beehives, and hear my ammachi calling, “Pāāpa, thein veno?” (Pāāpa, do you want some honey?), and my whole being warms up with the love from that sunny corner of the earth decades ago.


Photo by Liz Hum

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