tea monsoon (poem)

rivers stream down verdant hills  
sweetly spiced tears submerge
millions in a tea monsoon
a paradoxical wine fills the cups
on a village farm road,
tractor meets ox-cart,
moves past women carrying
woven baskets on their heads
the silk sari shop shares
the same doorstep as
the old beggar woman
in faded blue cotton
an infant drinks buffalo milk
in the market, shoppers pay
for coconut water, thirsty
for more than the same scorching sun 
bangles dangle, girls chatter;
a bejeweled bride swathed
in gold circles the fire, then cooks
lentils and rice and haggles
over the price of eggplant
for the next fifty years
the young servant girl
bequeathed to the old man
joins the river of tears
curry mixes with poison
her ashes scatter
across the world,
land in my cup, I strain
tea grounds and toss
them in the trash
sweet mangoes 
can’t take away the bitter taste
of homelessness
and jasmine can’t quench
the stench of death
a billion veins bleed ginger-spiced chai
filling cups at tea time
while curried waves lick
shores of sugar cane sand
©prasanta 8/2011
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This is based on a true story. When I visited India fifteen years ago, a young servant girl worked in the house I stayed in (she apparently unfortunately did not have the opportunity to go to school). My daughter was 4 years old at the time, and this young girl would take my daughter out for walks. Sometimes, they’d walk to the market on an errand to buy milk or some other item, then return back to the house. She’d help with cooking and sweeping floors and other housework. They always said she was older than she looked. I was looking forward to seeing her again in 2011, on my next trip. One of the interesting things I have found about traveling there is that years can pass, but people remember you as if it were just yesterday. I think some of it is because nothing much changes in some of the smaller villages (but that is not as true as it used to be, as some areas are changing rapidly now). I think some of it is also because of hospitality. Or maybe it is just my own perception of it. But that is how I remember this young girl: her smiling face, as if she remembered us well and our presence was nothing new. A few months after the trip I heard that she had been engaged to a much, much older man, and she committed suicide by swallowing poison (some sort of cleaning fluid). I had heard of stories like this but this incident was the first time I had known someone in this kind of situation; it was not just a statistic. If I had control of taking care of some injustices in this world, this is one I would fix: sending girls to school.          

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