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By Mydhili R Varma

I cradle the fossils of my ancestors’ bent spines –

Cervical in their helplessness,

Thoracic in despair,

Lumbar in naked resignation –

In the secret dominions of my heart

Four chambers pumping shame into my tie-wound neck

I don’t tell people I am the first from my family to cross the threshold of college, school,

To write my name with a flourish in English


My name tastes like the hot rice gruel eaten with raw onions and green chillies,

Accompanied by coconut chutney on festive days,

The tongue-rolling zha of vernacular tongue,

The petrichor-smelling village of my origin,

A terrain of my ancestors’ bent spines

Twisted by a lifetime of slave kowtowing

My mother, a lost empire of hopes,

A map of stretchmarks and skin tags and blemishes,

Still, a seed bank of adoration

Vaults open in cinnamon-smelling embrace

My father, whose two remaining teeth grace his perpetual smile

In mutinous resolve against the kicks and shoves that bent his spine

The doctor tells me to sit erect, shows me exercises

I shorten my name to Anbu

I sit in a swiveling chair inside a matchbox office

That is on top of 11 stacks of matchboxes

I swivel and sit in spine-friendly chairs

To stop my spine from bending like my ancestors’ did

I stretch and my hands bang on the cubicle

A whole urban realm from lands encroached

Lands my ancestors tilled, ploughed and harvested from

Lands now bleeding poison

I sign and share online campaigns for social change

But can’t bear to utter my family name

My contented smile beats my internal polygraph

In the tea shop I frequent daily

Is a cleft-lipped errand boy barely two digits old

The invisible cord connecting our spines peels layers from my shame-pumping heart

I change tea shops so I don’t have to heed to the call of fossilized bent spines

From unmarked graves and thirsty eyes

I run

I sieve the city through me and all of me through the city

And all that remains are clogging bits of snuffed out ash

From my ancestors’ fossilized bent bones

By Mydhili R Varma

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