my grandmother was born deaf
in a village where there wasn’t very much said.
the women did not sing while working in the fields
in the way every film on rural life would have us believe.
they weren’t sad or anything. they knew all the songs too,
but it didn’t occur to them that they would look so very
romantic, humming while their feet slowly corroded
in the grey waters of the meiyyar diverted to their
wet paddies after it had served the battery acid factories
in chinthamani, half a day’s walk away
where my grandmother’s perfectly sound sister
had been given in marriage.
her parents didn’t think much of it,
“what use is hearing or speech to a girl?” they asked.
an excellent question in a village where girls
only nodded or giggled. or cried quietly into their davanis,
while counting the grains they could afford to steal
to make kanji for their mothers locked up in the room
at the back of the house each time they bled.
my grandmother was born deaf, and married a teacher
of languages in a school at the bottom of a parched hill
atop which the lord of circumnavigation had one of his many homes.
she fetched water from a well one furlong from the classroom,
and heard none of the cries when her husband caned little boys
who could not pronounce ozymandias.
my grandmother was born deaf but her seven children
were all “healthy” as the family told itself.
all of them could hear, see, speak and they exercised these
faculties well. two grew up to be teachers with the same
stentorian tone their father had used in vain on unwashed,
bewildered little boys thirty years earlier. three left the country
as soon as they could, and grandmother never heard their voices
over scratchy telephone lines, describing strange vegetables
they had tamed into milagootal and milagooshyam.
one of the other two went north and travelled with
the engineering corps, damming every river they could find.
the last, of course, gave birth to me and a sister who came out
wailing so loud that the superintendent developed a migraine
and forgot about the blood my mother needed. she bled nearly to death
in a green-walled room, and when they found her,
she had lost her voice. she regained it enough to instruct
and correct, but not enough to teach us the songs
they didn’t sing in the village paddies.
my grandmother was born deaf but had nineteen grandchildren
the last of whom, my sister, caused her to hear for the first time.
she came home one aipasi evening carrying a dull brown box.
she opened it, attached a small device to grandmother’s right ear
and turned it on. just then a truck screeched down the highway
that been built over vengaiyya’s land behind our house.
grandmother’s eyes opened wide in shock and she died a minute later,
having flung the hearing aid halfway across the room.