Nandini Dhar’s poems have appeared or is forthcoming in Muse India, Kritya  and Sheher:Urban Poetry by Indian Women. Nandini grew up in Kolkata, India, finished her M.A. In Comparative Literature from University of Oregon, and is now a Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Literature at University of Texas at Austin.




inking the hyacinth


knowing how to make

                             the rosemary smell

                             like thyme is not enough.



her  brother told her. with a touch on her forehead,

which, he thought, would reassure her. if she really

wants to be the kabiyali she thinks she is, she must

learn how to make pearls  from inside her spleen.


                           and that, he said,

                           requires perseverance.

                           amongst other things.



not yet ready to give up, she  spent days

sorting through spine splintering brick.

looking for the right kind of dust.


                     holding the specks

                     against the sun with

                     her three fingers.


the other two craving for shades of green

she had never hoped to touch. then, once

she had them all, she  swallowed the dust

drops. one by one. every one of them. not

noticing that her forehead now bears five

glowing blue spots.


                          exactly on the places where

                          her brother’s fingers touched her

                          cantaloupe skin.


probably because, she wasn’t feeling anything there.

almost in the same way the leprosy skin fails to notice


                            the prick

                            of a pin

                            on itself.


in the bread-colored desolation of a machete moon,

she  had to admit that her brother did not want her

to pull out her eyes one after the other and serve them

to him in crystal jars.


                        marinated in lemon juice, rock

                        salt and cinnamon flakes. neither

                        does he want her to spend the day


sweeping speckless the ground under the guava tree

but, being just back from turning an oyster princess

into a porcelain-doll, he believes his assurances can


                      turn all silhouettes into full-blown

                      statuettes. she, on the other hand,

                      would rather scratch the oyster-shells


hard  and let the blood dry under her broken nails.

blood, when allowed to harbor chaos on its own, can

become a bladed verb which will pierce a bone right

in two. yet, eager to regale in his desperate certitude,


                       she gave up the bristles,

                       the blood,

                       bones and the blades.


for thirteen years, three months and three days, she made

the hyacinth leaf her bed. fed on air. and woke up every

morning to throw up spit the color of deep brown earth

and sunlit scar tissue. which she would then use to sculpt

rabbits, deer, sparrows and hedge-hogs.


                     and once she crawled back

                     into her hyacinth bed, her brother

                     would break them all. one by one


too ordinary, he would say, with an expert frown. the morning

she spat the pearl out, her brother held her head, picked up

the pearl stone, and after looking at it for two whole minutes

through purple tinted field glass, said, sissy dear, you are yet to learn

the art of madness wild. it was then that she smashed


                       the pearl on the rock. collected pieces

                       too pink. and  wrapped them up in

                       her rainbow-skinned scarf, walking off


towards her hyacinth-shield.  needless to say, no one

saw her ever again. Nothing much happened to her

brother either. only the white hyacinth flowers, in

the lake, turned fluorescent  violet. and on full-moon

nights, they bleed red. routinely. ritually. without fail.




irreconcilable:lines for virginia mem-sahib


My aunt, Mary Beton, I must tell you, died by a fall from her horse when she was riding out to take the air in Bombay. […] A solicitor’s letter fell into the post-box and when I opened it I found that she had left me five hundred pounds a year for ever.


                                                                                                     A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf



since 1835,

when abhinavagupta, shudrak, and rumi were forced to sit

tight-packed on a single shelf, leaving the rest of the world to alphabets

that jumped out of ships and judge-sahib’s wigs, textbooks have perfected

the art of making crazed scribbling-chicks look tame.


tame enough to be tapestried into buttercream muslin pillow cases


tame enough to be painted on jasmine-white schoolroom walls


tame enough to be talked about without once referring

to that conch-shaped nose of yours

the look in your eyes, which says,

i am perfectly capable of drenching myself

in the purple-blue of a drizzly-day sun, claiming, the sun

belongs to me and only to me, and can,therefore,

be swept away, into the abyss of my purse,

just like the peacock-feather of my hat.



my tongue was daffodil-bruised.

the little man made me peel oranges

for eight hours every day, my ass on wood,

the tip of his beard brushing off the last traces

of elizabeth, mary, all those poet-girls who walked straight

into the smoke-filled coffeehouses, corsets tightly folded into eight

in their armpits.


hell,i didn’t know that even sammy dear

had waved off the sugar-bowl with the back of his left hand while pouring

out a full dose of white guilt in the wings of albatross


so, i held on to your lonely sun. although,

for my own sake,i would have rather opened my lips,

tongue,limbs and nipples to the storm. yet, there are days,

when i craved for a share of your sun, with bleeding fingernails

and all.


you were running,

your skirt hitched up to your knees,

from the very old man

with scissors for clipping the wings of women

who build abodes other than the ones thrust upon them

by holy matrimony.


i was running right beside you,

trying to figure out the color of the thread of your hems.

i would have given anything for them to be the shade

of clotted blood, rust, deep-fried, well-breaded mutton cutlet.


and there was mary beton.

bombay.the horse. the fall.

five hundred pounds a year. a room ensured.


damn it, girl, i couldn’t care less

for your aunt beton or her fall. but I did care

for the five hundred pounds, which, had they

stayed behind, could have been used to build

my own room. Or, for that matter,

one for my sister

one for my cousin

one for my aunt

one for my mother

one each for my father, brother and uncle.


ginny dearest, i don’t trust you

with the carving of my wood.

for all practical purposes, you’re just

another mem-sahib.


nothing more.