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Delhiwale: Birdwatcher of Munirka Enclave

Kandala Singh, a poet, shares a creation especially close to her
By Mayank Austen Soofi
UPDATED ON AUG 04, 2021 04:22 AM IST
A poet, Ms Singh lives in south Delhi’s Munirka Enclave.

Kandala. Such an uncommon name. “It means ‘golden’ and indicates someone who has the properties of gold, such as beautiful, precious, rare,” says Kandala Singh. The word is from Punjabi, her mother tongue.

A poet, Ms Singh lives in south Delhi’s Munirka Enclave. It is a neighbourhood that “gives me plenty of fodder for poetry—interactions on the terrace with neighbours during lockdown, messages on the colony WhatsApp group, the Ashoka trees, the cacophonous chorus of birds twice a day.”

In her 30s, she finished composing Birdwatching this month last year. She wrote the first draft in a single day but “went back and forth on this poem over the next four months, revising and editing, and re-revising with the inputs of a poetry partner.”

She feels especially attached to this poem, for it touches upon the “emotional truths and contradictions” of domestic violence. Ms Singh is a survivor of gender violence who also works on gender issues as a researcher and activist.

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“We don’t always manage to make room for these nuances. Perpetrators of violence are often painted with an unidimensional lens. The lived experience of violence is far more complicated.” Poetry can hold room for these contradictions, she believes.

Ms Singh agrees to share the poem with us, which first appeared in the US-based poetry journal Rust + Moth.

Birdwatching

My mother says it was the peacock

that did it, the reason I said papa

before mama. In the memory she made

for me, you took me to the chhat

and taught me how to say ‘mor.//

I don’t remember the peacocks. I remember

wanting parrots. //

She insists they were why I forgave

you her bruises: red turning blue,

then green, colour of rose-ringed

parakeets. I remember//

pointing a fruit

knife at you, blade sticky

with orange pulp. I remember//

the forests we crossed

every Himalayan summer;

how you taught

me to listen for a river;

joining tops of blue

pine to bulbuls who flew

across, drawing threads

with our eyes to trace

their flight. I remember

the shrill in mama’s voice//

the first time she called my name

for help. I remember

screaming STOP.//

I remember learning

to pronounce or-ni-tho-lo-gist,

you explaining you weren’t

one. I remember breathing//

sessions in therapy, sifting

summer from winter, you

from mama’s husband,

my therapist saying I should

hold on to the good things you did.

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