‘There’s blood on my knuckles’

Srilata’s poems in Three Women in a Single Room House are intimate, personal, and deeply touching.

Published : Feb 08, 2024 11:00 IST - 2 MINS READ

“Dead Wood”, begins with these fine lines: “There’s always that one door locked from the inside—/ the keys gone missing”.

“Dead Wood”, begins with these fine lines: “There’s always that one door locked from the inside—/ the keys gone missing”. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/ iStock 

In her sixth book of poetry, K. Srilata, a former professor of literature at IIT Madras, interweaves family, history, and contemporary times. It is mainly about “three women used to small places”—the poet herself, her mother, and her grandmother, who live in a single-room home:

the three of us,

rough diamonds stuck

in mines that ran too deep

to catch the light.

Three Women in a Single Room House
By K. Srilata
Sahitya Akademi
Pages: 66
Price: Rs.100
Reading with Frontline| K.Srilata reads from ‘Three women in a single-room house.’ | Video Credit: By Team Frontline

Among the best poems is “Dead Wood”, which begins with these fine lines:

There’s always that one door locked from the inside—

the keys gone missing,

a sense that something is amiss. On the other side,

someone who doesn’t hear me knock,

or doesn’t want to.

I knock and knock,

There’s blood on my knuckles.

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She is also “too busy burying the kernel of a father who has been absent, loud and long these last thirty-five years”. She speaks for other women who are in the same predicament: “It is, for all of us,/the grief of the unspent life,/those coins in our purse/that remain small change,/the ride offered but not taken,/the unreturned gaze,/ the train with one empty seat/that pulled out seconds ago/and the station master gloating,/‘You missed it by a whisker’./The things we miss by a whisker,/the lives we don’t live,/and now never will.” (“Having Come this Far”).

Cover of Three Women in a Single Room House

Cover of Three Women in a Single Room House

In “Bland as oatmeal”, she writes “daily odes to ordinariness./None of them is out of line.”

She speaks also of the ultimate futility of life in a poem called “Thrift Store Rucksack”: “But now, all it holds/is my lack of adventure:/Torch, tissue,/underwear to spare,/Vicks, violin,/aspirin, antiseptic,/Hawaii chappals, hot water bag,/housecoats,/playing cards, a comb,/bindis,/tooth brush, tongue cleaner,/raincoat, roll on deo,/plastic bags, pins,/and that book of poems/I have been meaning to read/for years.”

Srilata’s Haibun poems are a little beyond me, but all in all this is a fine book of poetry—a book to treasure in good and bad times.

Manohar Shetty has recently edited The Greatest Goan Stories Ever Told, published by Aleph.

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