Two Poems by Suneeta Peres da Costa
Going to the River
At the turn off to the temple, smoke rises in the hills. In the fields, two women, red and green dhotis, bend to pick the dry grasses for cattle feed. The new paddy is yet to be sown – when you ask for red rice the owner of Alsino supermarket shrugs; look, she says, in Margao. Part of the path has been tarred and you dodge buffalo pats in a dance that reminds you of childhood - before the motor of a scooter startles you. And startled by you: the rustle of a crane alighting from one of the coconut palms; tonight the only kind of bird you see. At the pier, two girls talk on mobile phones then confide in each other. The eye slithers into detritus – coconut husks, plastic bags, an old shoe; two trawlers at the river’s edge, going nowhere. Black sand smuggled onto land in recent days disturbs more than the view toward Shiroda. Since his prawns died, the Usurper, whose ‘Little Hearts Dance Club’ obscures the view North, has diversified – is now cultivating sugar bananas! You remark the pier could become a point of pride for the whole community and he quickly searches his shirt pocket for the number of the local MLA … The buffalo herdsman greets you with a hearty dev borem korum; whereas you want to talk buffalo he wants to know whether you’re married yet and whether your Australian salary exceeds US 50K. Women gather in the temple for a ceremony you don't know the name of, you who are between all things, like your father’s Mother tongue, no script defines what you are, either Roman or Devanagari.
Dusk, but we can still see down past Sernabatim to Colva; and the sight of these small birds – sand plovers – content with what they find in the shallows, almost makes it possible to hope nothing will change, although change seems the only constant, the horizon diminishing as rapidly as our expectations, the shadow of Lord Parushurama’s arrow quivering in the breeze of our willed amnesia. Are we shameless for questioning his marksmanship? For saying Shiva was remiss in gifting the mythical axe to him? An axe for history? For breaking hearts and drawing battle lines? Dreams that bring suffering must be something other than godly though this region is called god’s own. And who are we to quarrel with the past, we who sold out long ago, fleeing not to the mountains with our idols but with a mid-century craving for exile? I remember how Uncle Fernando would swim far out into the sea, this sea which will one day engulf Benaulim though not before it is swallowed by developers. At the ruins of the Maratha Fortress in Aldona, my camera snaps another sort of disappearance, the land blasted for bauxite, iron ore and who-knows-what more ... We’re all strangers, I think, I myself reduced to a child’s quest for permanence and transcendence: collecting shells. I lag behind, caught in carious likenesses: exo-skeletons and husks, the living and their remains. You don’t look back but in your eyes I see the imprint of earlier footsteps: small legs clambering up to fence posts (still blue though the paint is peeling); the coconut grove bespeaking Fernando’s favourite ambortik (we hear the rats have got into the coconuts); the bungalow closed now the German tenant is away. The caretaker whispers one dog has died of snakebite; the well too fallen into disuse since a snake was found dead in it. Contamination and superstition, same-old same-old. Still, it’s inviting and I trespass into the garden, steal a pink hibiscus and, enchanted by the butterflies, feel a quiet reverence that the living and the dead may meet in this one life.
Suneeta Peres da Costa was born in Sydney, Australia. Homework (Bloomsbury; 1999) was her debut novel. Saudade, on the legacies of Portuguese colonialism and the Goan diaspora in Angola, is forthcoming from Giramondo. She has published and produced across the genres of fiction, non-fiction, play-writing, and poetry. Her literary honours include a Fulbright Scholarship, the Australia Council for the Arts BR Whiting Residency, Rome, and, recently, an Asialink Arts Creative Exchange to India. Homework can be purchased here.