Three poems: An Evening in Agartala

By Madhu Raghavendra


My memory of our pregnancy 
Is all kinds of red―

Peeling beetroots, chopping carrots 
Deseeding pomegranates

Rinsing tender desi chicken 
Removing the gills from the fish

Standing by the three-burner gas stove 
The flames are a handful of semal

The sound of red glass bangles 
Every time you change sides in sleep

Eyes shut in broad daylight
Red from the aorta of the night

The linea nigra is a brownish horizon 
That bears the crimson dawn

The placenta brings a lifetime of spring 
The heart of a mother, the hands of a father

You lie under a flowering hibiscus tree 
The rust-red iron sucrose

Flows through a timeless drip-set 
The ever-fluctuating haemoglobin

The ultrasound images of the baby 
Somersaulting in the womb

Like a bird that cannot wait to find the sky 
Through a bougainvillea doorway

The body is a scrambling summer vine
That bears sweet, juicy, red watermelon flesh

The courtyard, the heart, everything overgrows 
Gently, red palms rub the bump, calm the baby

A beloved promise pollinates from love 
The pink lilies open their buds, birth.

An Evening in Agartala

Desire dances wildly 
To the beats of a giant dhak 
In a forest of shimmering datura

There is no society 
But four corners of our bed
Under a white lighting sky 
Black clouds grind our bodies 
The secret stays— what's yours, what's mine?

The lust camouflaged within
Manifests on our skin 

We lie lifeless, 
My holy thread entangled, 
torn apart in your arms

Saliva-sweat sorbet, a ripped bouquet
'Do I satisfy you?' you ask
No, you keep me hungry

We listen to our breathlessness in peace 
The evening crows have returned 
To the silhouette of the lichi trees.


— for Poge Karso 

The wrap and weft of stories 
Knit life and lore tightly  
Automated looms loom 
The dust on our hands draws debt 
And dullness takes over  
The assembly lines kill culture
Societies now come in the same clothes.

She meditates like a mountain 
One end of the loom tied to the window
An antelope of light leaps looking for a companion 
The other end to her spine, 
Her nerves run through the universe
There are no permanent fixtures
The voice of her fabric is untameable.

Her dyes don't bleed, she bleeds love 
For daughters, brocades of rain, 
Fashion, decorative dashes, peacock plumes and
Lakes of lilacs that drown man and his machines 
Her colours are infinite, her needles converse
In codes, migrate centuries 
Before she brings them home. 

Her motifs are faceless revolutions
No pamphlets are served, no slogans raised 
Yet her women blossom 
At the dance of her tribe like wild orchids 
She owns no war, stiches boundaries and
Harvests the Sun on her loom 
Yet none of her children weave a gālè. 


(Note: The gālè is the colourful wrap that is worn around the waist by the Galo women. The Galo are a central Eastern Himalayan tribe which primarily inhabit the West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. Although it is common for women to wear a wrap in North East India, it would be identified by different names.)


Madhu Raghavendra is a poet, and social development practitioner. He is the founder of Poetry Couture, one of India's largest poetry initiatives. His poetry movement has created free spaces for poetry in many cities of India. His debut book, Make Me Some Love To Eat has been well-received nationwide, and is in its fourth edition. He has conducted performance poetry workshops and read at many schools, institutes, and festivals across India. He has been a part of Sahitya Akademi's Young Writers festival in Jammu. He was a resident artist at Basar Confluence, Arunachal Pradesh’s first artist residency programme.