“Chhanna,” the Metal Bowl
translated by Sarabjeet Garcha
Clocks books and keepsakes never tell what the time now is inside them the clock strikes 11 after 1 before 1 there’s zero the flat-bottom metal bowl balanced on the mantelpiece roils letting out sounds as if slipping out of hand a filled cup has just emptied itself or as if at midnight a cat is raking darkness in a kitchen corner or as if quaffing her thirst Mother has just set the bowl down this bowl is older than i it is filled with memories like salt dissolved in yogurt milk Father licks his greased mustache Mother giggles at something she recalls from times long past the cracked bowl is her only heirloom the chhayapatra hovering in a nook always holds my mother in the folds of remembrance
Originally published in the July 2018 issue of Words Without Borders. Copyright © 2018 Amarjit Chandan. Translation © 2018 by Sarabjeet Garcha. All rights reserved.
The Sanskrit word chhanna is both a noun meaning a bronze bowl with its rim inclined inward and an adjective meaning hidden, mysterious, secret. According to Indian astrology, a chhanna is used for chhayadan, a practice—believed to negate the debilitating influences of malefic planets—in which the donor looks at his or her reflection in the mustard oil contained in an alms vessel before dropping a coin into it. That is why the vessel is also called chhayapatra, meaning, literally, "reflection vessel."