Nandini Dhar

Art Lesson


Draw a triangle in the right hand side of your paper. A rectangle right beneath that. That's your house. Where you want windows, draw a square. Another rectangle, for the door. In the left hand side of the paper, stick figure trees. Leaves are green crayon smudges. In the foreground, more stick figures. Stick mother, stick father and stick daughter hold each others' stick arms. Happy happy happy-- half moon smiles. 

No one has taught you how to draw rooms in this house. And you want to draw a kitchen. Because, that's where, you know, cucumbers are shapeshifted into talking parrots. You want your share of that magic.You collect pieces-- broken porcelain teacups, matchbox pictures, tossed out cigarette packets. Store them in boxes under the bed. You still do not know how to make soot and grease out of them. What you do know is how to make broken collages. 

In each of them, your mother stands in front of the gas oven, ladle in hand, shaking it in an empty wok. Even in her sleep, she cannot stop rattling them. She vows everyday to burn down the house you've drawn. Her blouse is damp with grease. She wants to fold paper into cranes. But has no time. She does not hold anyone's arms. She is angry angry angry. 

No one has taught you how to draw that mother. But you do anyway. With every etch of your pencil, your mother walks out of calendar pages, book covers, archived booklets. You smash her limbs, skeletons, ribs. You are addicted to the sound of her bones breaking. As you count the pieces you've broken her into – four six eight-- you think, you finally might have found the way to draw the rooms in the house. Especially, the kitchen. 




A shiuli tree  and an iron gate: a lump  of earth, old men's fingers. The birthmarks on earth: that porcelain house. Long afternoons, only for women. One of them wears loneliness like a lost fabric design. Stretches her fingers,teaches them to listen to the cracks in the soot-stained kitchen walls. On the terrace, saris starched and washed-- paper thin. On this woman's skin – they rustle.

This woman, morphing smaller every day. Small enough  to be a tiger-lily in a vase: white bone china. Family heirloom. Made in England, circa 1942. Worshipped with vermilion and flowers: survived Partition.  And falling apart, like a wilted leaf.

A woman clicks open the iron-gate: she sews the other woman together. Every day. Cleans: in every room, the mundane ruins. The neatly stitched curtains, the rows of spotless china teacups, the living room almirah, family pictures no one looks at anymore. Her name is embossed in every dictionary of who should do what. And where: maid, domestic, thike-jhi.

Two women push the slug-trail of water behind them. Like soldiers-- solemn and well-spaced. Their knuckles smell of artificial lemons. The one who sews the other together – everyday-- dreams a silent remembrance: a man tied to the back of a zamindar's horse- cart. The sound of the bones on pebbles, skin unraveling. The man, her father. She puts this  woman's face in place of the man.  Her own tongue, tight and unfree.

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Nandini Dhar hails from Kolkata, India. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Potomac Review, PANKYellow Medicine ReviewPear Noir and Southern Humanities Review.Her work has also been featured in the anthology The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Writing. She teaches postcolonial literature at Florida International University, and co-edits the online journal Elsewhere