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People often contact me to ask about my poem ‘You, Shiva and My Mum,’ in Forward Book of Best Poems, Here’s what I say:
YOU, SHIVA AND MY MUM
This poem takes off from a trip our family made at the height of summer just before the monsoon, to the wedding of one of my brothers. He was marrying a girl in a mountain village of remote rural Orissa, an Indian state famous in the 19th century for human sacrifice.
That village is in a tribal, non-Hindu, area, but for the Hindus in it, t is protected by a goddess called Maa Markoma. Above it, in steep broken rocks by a waterfall, is a cave-shrine to the god Shiva, whose image is painted on the cliff-face outside. Shiva’s familiar vehicle is a bull, Nandi – whose statue, lying down, is usually outside any shrine to Shiva.
The wedding rituals included women having our faces painted with turmeric and our feet painted with henna.
Cows are sacred in India, so they wander everywhere and, like buffalo, sleep everywhere too. They cause a lot of traffic problems. The sleeping calves look like heaps or puddles of wood-shavings.
The “you” must – mustn’t it?) – refer to a partner or lover back home. So maybe the poem is partly “about” (whatever that word means) making connections over continents, time zones, families?