My Mother’s Kajal

2 minute read

She brings the lipstick close to her lips,
her lipstick becomes more wrinkles
adjacent to the lips than lips,
her hands tremble as she picks up the kajal1.

The back of its plastic case
has no specific instructions
for women with trembling hands,
the guidelines have no asterisks
suggesting doting mothers
whose visible nail and hair fat
has suctioned their husbands away
into young, petite, hard-bodied hands,
which hold on to the kajal more tightly.

The instructions are nothing more
than mere mathematical axioms,
old worn-out corollaries for the
Diamond-Skinned, Glass-Eyed,
Extra Supermodel Goddesses
with unflawed DNA for ages.

It has no FYIs to caution that
these kajals have a very small half-life,
that a simple well-directed splash of water
will wash away the momentary charm
which the popcorn-chewing husband has prioritised
over the thrill of Indian Idol, over the thrill of
So You Really Absolutely Wholeheartedly
Genuinely Realistically Believe You Can Dance,
over the thrill of Shahi Paneer2,
over the thrill of Tuborg 5003.

The instructions provide no premonitions
of the recurrence of the knife-scrawled blisters
that the cactus-mouthed mother-in-law
will happily gift her after the cessation
of the blackness of her eyes
The guidelines show no other trembling hands,
no other distress-signalled breasts,
reaching out to get them away from mirrors,
away from lipsticks, away from kajals,
away from their husbands and be individual
Estuaries, Lakes, Rivers, Oceans,
Cyclones, Thunderstorms, Apocalypses.

My mother still with trembling hands,
like an amateur magician
who has not perfected her tricks,
misdirects her bangles, lockets, lipsticks,
and asks me, “Son, how do I look?”
and I with a smile tell her that
she looks like the most beautiful woman
I have ever seen,
like every other mother,
like every other woman.

  1. Kajal: Kohl or Mascara 

  2. Shahi Paneer: An Indian snack made from cottage cheese 

  3. Tuborg 500: Popular beer brand in India 

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