was your first name and i cannot think
of any that could have better described you
when we first met i knew only your most famous poem
about the construction worker who carried on her back
the burden of her own mortality
you wrote in the first person and i asked why
you’d chosen a feminine voice and you said with a twinkle
of pleasure
that no one had ever asked this before but perhaps
the answer was that when you wrote
of the misery of the poor and the oppressed
the image
that first came to you was of your mother
in the village you had left a hundred, perhaps
a thousand years behind
now i am comfortable, even happy, you said
with your sad eyes and your shy smile
i can eat with you in your house with confidence
but memories of childhood are never far
and it is always mother i remember
we were untouchables then and
our shadow
was not permitted to fall on those who considered us as such
father was an alcoholic and mother slaved to bring us up
it is she who had no voice whose voice
i now hear
as you spoke there was no anger in you
no trace of self-pity only compassion
for the suffering of a mother who had become
the whole human race.

*Written for poet Daya Pawar who passed away in 1996. (Daya means ‘kindness’ in Hindi.)