Stone Telling

[HOME]      [ISSUE]      [ARCHIVES]      [ABOUT]      [GUIDELINES]     [BLOG]

Learning to Locate Colors in Grey: Kiran Talks About Her Brothers

by Nandini Dhar

(After the classic Bengali fairytale Arun-Barun-Kiranmala compiled by Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumder in his Thakumar Jhuli (Tales from Granny's Bag). Kiranmala or Kiran is one of the protagonists of the tale, who, in order to take care of herself and her brothers, Arun and Barun, dresses up as a man and defeats the demons successfully.)

I heard many more stories than those contained in the following pages; but I rejected a great many, as they appeared to me to contain spurious additions to the original stories which I had heard when a boy. I have reason to believe that the stories given in this book are a genuine sample of the old old stories told by old Bengali women from age to age through a hundred generations.
        – Lal Behari Dey, Preface to Folktales of Bengal

Her father never knew her
or her brothers' birthmarks.

He wasn't there to witness them.

They had come to him, in coconut-leaf dinghies,
knifing the river like quick cutlasses.

          A fact she didn't know until later.

He (who she calls her father) takes refuge
in a language which has ceased to exist anywhere
except in pages.
                             He demands

her brothers learn the script down to its last detail.
As if, those boys were indeed his own.

She, her father sets to glaze smooth shine
                       her brothers' ink pots,
clean sharp the tips of their nibs.

                                                                   She possesses the advantage
                                                                        of an intimate knowledge
                                                        that she is too thick for the narrow sleekness
                                                                             of their quill tips.

she finds nothing in her brothers to mimic. They cling on to an orderliness
which escapes her tongue.

                                        Unlike her, they see nothing other than black and white in grey.

She has learned to locate

the teal, indigo, fuchsia, and vermilion in any measured mixture
                        of ivory and slate.

Nonetheless, she knows the grey like the lines of her hand.

In and out. Out and in.

That's how she knows she will be a storyteller
and her brothers, commentators at best.

Nandini Dhar's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Muse India, Kritya, Mascara Literary Review, Off the Coast, Pratilipi, tinfoildresses, First Literary Review-East, Hawai'i Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Penwood Review and The Asia Writes Project. A Pushcart nominee, Nandini grew up in Kolkata, India, and received an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Jadavpur University, Calcutta and another M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Oregon. Currently, she is a Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin.