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 On the Poem ‘You, Shiva and My Mum’, in the 
 Anthology of the Forward Books of Poetry 2002–2011

This poem takes off from my first visit to India. Not for a holiday, or my tiger research, but for a family wedding. One of my brothers was marrying a girl from a remote mountain village in rural Orissa, a state famous in the 19th century for, among other things, human sacrifice. We all went, including my eighty-year-old mother, eight of us in the height of summer heat just before monsoon, because village astrologers said that was the right time. The wedding rituals went on for three days. For me and my daughter, they included having our faces rubbed in turmeric paste and our feet painted with henna.

The village is in a beautiful mountain tribal area For Hindus in it, it is protected by a goddess called Maa Markoma and, above the village, in steep broken rocks beside a waterfall, a cave-shrine to the god Shiva, whose image is painted on the cliff-face outside. A statue of Shiva’s bull, Nandi, is usually placed outside his shrine facing the entrance, lying down.

Cows are sacred in India, so they wander and sleep everywhere and can cause a lot of traffic problems, lying down chewing the cud, especially on long-distance roads. The sleeping calves look like heaps or puddles of wood-shavings.

The “you” in the poem 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, and families?

Crete, 2016

Jaipur Literature Festival 2019