A girl of eight skips around the veranda,
a gecko on the ceiling taunting her. Wonders
if the chipkali will fall on her father
as he sleeps. Or will it slurp a mosquito.
The ceiling fan gives her frock a lift,
a breeze when nothing else moves,
only father’s eyes fluttering
behind eyelids. Dev wears a subtle smile
a hint of happy, just at the edge of his lips.
He has shut out the world of grocery
shopping, job hunting, wife pleasing.
Was there joy spilling out from dreams?
The girl wonders. Maybe he was dancing
in a Bollywood film with Zeenat Aman,
as she shimmied her waist side to side,
carrying a clay urn on her head.
His foot dangles from the roped manji
as sunlight streams through an iron
gate, before that a lemon tree, before
that the chameli, before that the green
card, filed neatly in his wallet, along-
side his Two Guys credit card.
She wonders why he’d leave mangoes
and mammas with love spilling
from their dupatted bosoms. She wonders
why he’d leave behind zippy scooters
and street vendors selling gol guppay
overflowing with tamarind and potatoes.
And come to barren, grey, winter steel
in the sky?
She skips away when the fan stops
whirling, no electricity from 2-4pm.
Mumma is inside, rummaging this’s
and that’s: the nose ring she wore
at her wedding, old coins with holes
in them, the kind used before India
split into three, father’s old college
yearbook. She thumbs pages
till she finds, “Atam Dev does not follow
the old ways. He is very modern,
and especially loves American music.”
Above the caption is a photo of a young
Sikh man, turbaned, skinny pants,
doing the Twist, arms outstretched, hips
in mid-sway. “Wake up daddy, you
cannot hide any more.”
The chipkali unspools its tongue,
nabs its prey.