Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry

K. Srilata

Not in the Picture

Adoption agency file.
Her first photograph. The only one in the file. 
Passport size. Taken at age eleven months.
Studio backdrop: faded orange and dust you can smell.
There is no prior story. Nothing before 
the orange and the dust.
Except a thick sky of blankness. 

"Why didn't they do more than follow procedure? Why didn't they do more than stick a bottle of milk into her tiny, seeking mouth? Why didn't they do more than wrap a towel around her elfin thin body?"

I am greedy. I want something larger than orange and dust. I want a sky with fluffy white clouds. I am greedy for some infant cuteness. I want pictures of the day they found her.

Glossy, flattering ones I can enlarge,
slide into albums,
design coffee mugs out of,
seal into her life and mine. 
Didn't they have a bloody camera?
Now what will I tell her? 

"What did I look like as a baby, amma?" 
Why are there no photographs of me as a little baby, amma?"

"Maybe, they didn't have a camera, love. Or maybe they did but someone dropped it and it shattered into a million pieces."

"But they could have stuck it back together." "That's not so easy!" "Why didn't they simply get a new one, amma?"


Five years ago. A new-found first cousin on my father's side tells me about a photograph in his family album. "We are all in it," he says, "Your parents and mine, my sister, me, and you, with your cute, shining pate and no hair. You had just come back from Tirupati, post-tonsure. Must have been soon after your first birthday."

I want to see that photograph. 
I don't want to see that photograph.  
I will never see that photograph. 
I am too busy burying the kernel of a father who has been absent, loud and long, these last thirty five years. 

"I have often wondered," ventures my cousin, "what became of my baby cousin with her Tirupati-tonsured head. But now I know!"


I am leafing through an old album. My mother isn't home. The shock of a picture with one edge snipped off. There's only two of us- me and my mother. A tiny bit of someone's elbow. I know, without being told, whose.


I am ten. My cousin's a year old. We are playing on the beach. My uncle produces a camera. I hurry into the frame. Greed again. "Let me get one of Arvind first," my uncle says. I step aside. Afterwards, I refuse to have my picture taken.


My wedding. My mother, having raised me single-handedly, has hired a professional photographer. When the album arrives, we find she is not in any of the pictures.

"It is sharp as an ice pick," I tell a politely puzzled friend over dinner, "this desire, for certain photographs. If you are not watchful, it can stab you through the heart".

A Big Elephant in My Room

There's this big elephant in my room
that I wasn't seeing,
though not for lack of trying
on his part.
They say
he's  been waving
and waving 
his over-sized trunk 
in front of my face,
for decades now,
and has even lost a kilo or two 
performing - for my sole benefit - 
over a hundred and one circus acts. 
But a Big-Elephant blindness 
must have have covered my eyes 
like a film of cataract,
for I swear I never saw him.

Last evening, though, 
when the fellow splashed 
a trunk-full of water on my face,
I woke up to see the outline 
of something large and grey, 
tunneling its elephantine way 
slowly underground,
to the cold, dark place
where all Big Elephants are born.