Portrait of my Mumma

by Anushka Shah



My mother texts me that she has tears in her eyes, as she irons
this dress – made of pond green and mehndi red dyed cotton
and block printed with a sea of flowers and vines – this dress
bought by Mumma. My Mumma had an eye when she wasn’t
haunted by price tags my mother adds. How do I tell my mother, 
her texts make me think about Ziploc bags – the unopened boxes 
upon boxes that have haunted the cupboards of the Mumbai 
and Ahmedabad apartments since Mumma passed. My mother 
and her grief are nearer, my grief dilute, strained through her. 
It feels wrong, then, to unearth new grief, to make my mother 
remember that Mumma loved Ziplocs – the smooth slide open
and the thick plastic – so she didn’t use them. How do I tell 
my mother, I am thinking about how Mumma reused her bindis 
for weeks, the bathroom mirror dotted with tiny maroon suns. How
Mumma carefully stowed my mother’s gift – a lilac merino wool 
cardigan with mother of pearl buttons to wear over saris – deep 
into her turquoise wardrobe. How a year after Mumma’s death, 
my mother wore the cardigan with jeans for the first time, after 
I refused it because it was not my style. How do I tell my mother, 
I am thinking about the story of when, on a train, a gold chain
was jerked off of my sleeping Mumma with my child mother sitting 
next to her. I am thinking about the feeling of tightness – in the throat, 
in starched fabric, in the chest, in wallets tucked in blouses, around 
the neck, and how Mumma held my hand to step on any train, as we 
wove through a swarm of bodies, oscillating between solid and liquid. 


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