Gowrishankar
The Highway
by Uma Gowrishankar

I have said this so many times to my son
I want the front door removed
so that I do not have to answer the bell.
Then our home will become an open passage, he argued,
something like a road where everyone can walk by.
Isn’t it one already, I asked, not just a road, a highway?

My grandfather lived in a rambling house
dark and deep like the tunnel of memory,
divided into five areas of living and utility, open
for every acquaintance, he called family.
The front door made of heavy wood
was not meant to be closed during the day.

My grandmother a fragile asthmatic woman
could not move the iron latch weighing
five kilos from its tunneled slot — she depended on him
for that. Out of the open door wafted
the smell of food: she cooked pots of rice, simmered
lentils in juices of vegetables for those who visited —

an open door is an invite.
What if you remove the bell instead
my son suggested pulling me out of my thoughts.
Do not answer the door, pretend nobody is in.
I do that now most of the time, remembering the days
my grandmother shut herself in, mind sealed
behind the opaque cataract of forgetfulness.

Photo by Shiva Subbiaah Kumar.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As I wrote this poem I kept going to the thought of how the front door remains shut now, no one enters. We fear the invisible intruder as the news seeps through the walls of localities in the neighbourhood becoming containment zones. There was a time I longed to have my home for myself, not to have to open the door to share the space. Now that I am forced into such an existence, I recall the time when people like waves came through the door, and regret that I had foolishly desired for self-isolation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Uma Gowrishankar is a writer and artist from Chennai, South India. Her poems and fiction have appeared in numerous journals, including CityA Journal Of South Asian Literature, Qarrtsiluni, Buddhist Poetry Review, Catapult Magazine, Curio PoetryPure Slush, and Postcard Shorts. Her first full-length collection of poetry Birthing History was published by Leaky Boot Press.