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Silken Pilgrimages

by Shreenidhi Rajagopalan

This poem by Shreenidhi Rajagopalan is about silk, and the familiar images of the women in our lives it evokes. It talks about how we try to mould ourselves into those we grow up admiring, how we know we can’t and how we attempt to, anyway.

I don’t inhabit silk like Paati* did,
metaphors never swirl around me the way silken strands clung to her lithe frame,
finding homes with windows large enough for air,
and small enough not to let hostile winds enter
the warmth 84 years had created
in a body that wasn’t supposed to acknowledge itself,
my fingers know none of the casual efficiency Amma is habituated to,
slipping in and out of silk and cotton,
she always instinctively knows which skins and smiles to draw upon,
some swords,
some safe houses.
I try their saris on sometimes,
always six yards of hope on
five feet four inches of
skin too tightly drawn,
far too many pushes away from the bubbles I look at longingly through rose tinted windows,
bones trying to fit into the body society sanctions,
stretch marks swathes of anxious pride on pounds of fat,
and the vulnerability saris bring to my withdrawing smile,
giggles ricocheting off the secrets, squares of silk save for eons to come,
whispers across generations
from kollu paati** to kollu pethi***.
I am too large,
my smiles question marks
forcibly planted in fields of periods with perfect teeth,
eyebrows perpetually raised,
frissons in puddles of silk.
My spine is a comma,
uncertainty blooms on the bruises
bed bugs inflict in the waning hours of the moon,
I can’t sit straight
under the heat of glares,
I can feel myself wilt,
some sunflowers don’t find their suns.
Some don’t need to,
sheathed in the embrace of six yards of silk,
scorching slivers of sunshine on scrapes and scars
all fading into the patterns on Amma’s wedding sari.
I can’t find home in these six yards of history,
guiding me over lost coordinates
on tearing maps,
the splinters on the spinning globe
pierce themselves onto my skin more often than I can bandage it,
but I’m trying.
I am.

*grandmother
*great-grandmother
*great-granddaughter

Shreenidhi is a 16-year-old poet and feminist. She edits her school magazine, and her work has been published in the editorial of The Hindu and is slated to be published in an anthology on conflict in India, and several literary magazines. A person of few words when she’s not talking , her favourite things to do include petting every animal she comes across, crying when she can’t take them home, ditching plans and smashing the patriarchy. She is also a curd rice connoisseur who can spell connoisseur without autocorrect, and plans to list that as an achievement on her CV.
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  1. So heartening to see the level of maturity in a young mind and the use of evocative imagery associated with the traditional silk sari. Congratulations and keep it up!

  2. Silken Pilgrimages – evokes images of old-world charm that talks of silks always manage to. Quite mature verses for someone so wet behind the ears. The devil’s in the details and this young lady scores in her alliterations as well – ‘scorching slivers of sunshine’ et al. Bravo!

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