Chhoti Bahu, she of the biggest eyes and motion
most honey-like, begs you to stay.
Here is she:
bound by your space, still at your whimsy,
her desire ‘broidered and enfolded in silk,
now softened to the lateral by draughts
of sharaab, throwing petals.
How could the asking be more gentle?
You stiffen and flinch as if roses are made of flint,
as if to your ears her song
is a loud and acid vibration.
You wince under the petal-storm, duck,
lay the blame on her, and reach down to stay her.
She catches your hand. She wants a touch
of attention and respect, nothing more, just
a little two-way conversation.
You let yourself be held, then tear yourself away.
Note, you let yourself be held.
Meena Begum is never more beautiful than when she’s
at your feet in this role, her hair a river
of dark silk, made by God to cool your irritated skin.
Her love’s stronger than the laziness and self-contempt
I see in you,
and when you’re ill and honest thus, you remember her
and let yourself be gathered to her breast.
She can’t save you –
not one of us can save another, forever.
Her sacrifice is a gift you say you don’t want.
But you take it anyway.
In time, far away in some
her dissolution is going to soften
the harshness you learned to breath.
(part 1 isn’t written, and maybe never will be.)
Note: This is an ekphrasis on the picturization of the song Na Jao Saiyan Chhudaake Baiyan from Guru Dutt‘s 1962 Hindi film Shahib Bibi aur Ghulam. The actress is Meena Kumari, the actor is Rehman. Chhoti Bahu means little or younger sister-in-law, in an extended family setting; sharaab means wine; Begum is a term of respect, similar to the old formality Mistress.
This is an edited version. The original is here.