A second excerpt from the long poem, 'At the time of Partition'. My Muslim grandmother and her family crossed into Pakistan. They were eventually rehoused in Lahore, a house vacated by a Hindu or Sikh family, who would have made the crossing in the other direction. Ute, her son, is still missing.
At the Time of Partition (extract 2)
15. And Now?
sister, sister, sister,
around an absence,
of his loss.
Ripe, as if
but hour by hour,
month by month
no fruit fell.
but the offer of a house.
Or part of one. Not like for like –
the building shared,
no veranda, no garden with hibiscus
in a border, no almond trees.
A house, neither old nor new,
tucked away behind the bazaar,
leaning into a yellow courtyard,
its entrance on a narrow lane.
Amma, this will do! Acha… acha…
Yes…yes…This will do…
They moved like trespassers
through the rooms of orphaned furniture,
claimed the chests of drawers
and the shelves of almirahs,
removed saris and underskirts,
sleeveless pullovers, shirts, salwars,
and replaced them with their own,
tried all the beds (were they softer, harder?)
inspected the kitchen, the bags
of lentils, flour, opened and unopened,
the tava in place on the stove
waiting for the moons of roti,
and they noted in the darkened living-room
the number and position of chairs.
Everything as it was
when a family, mirroring their own
had grasped the future – and fled.
from At the Time of Partition (Bloodaxe, 2013) Moniza Alvi 2013, used by permission of the author and the publisher