Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Dowry Fires

How can this nation that burns its brides sleep in peace?

She rises from history, Sati[1], goddess, chaste woman
immolating herself on the pyre of her wedded lord,
a deity invoked in stone, to be worshipped in fire.

Seven steps around the altar of fire[2], hand in hand,
espoused for seven births,  nuptial vows pledged
on blue gods, fragrant dreams dancing like flames.

With relentless rituals drawn in radiant rainbow patterns,
dowry demands pour in like rice flakes over the sacred fire.
Glorious gold and crisp bank notes touch the looming sky.

Oblivious shehnai[3] notes dominate in double reed as sacred
mantras perfume the air:  I shall be the sky, you the earth,
may the heavens open for us and let us pledge an eternity.

Asha, Savita, Jayanti, Rajni, Svara - Eternal brides of the sky,
Where are you now?  Clad in red and gold, hair braided in
silk tassels of silvered follies, smiles of jewelled gemstone,

bangles tinkling the end of laughter, hands laden with gifts, 
the inheritance of loss. Fragrant flowers veil the asymmetries
of life as a relieved family bids farewell to a tearful daughter.

A woman is another’s wealth, to cherish or to renounce.
She is the pride and the shame, the shadow of the earth.
She is the deified and the damned, the womb of the world.

Dowsed in the stench of callousness, heartless kitchen fires
flicker on kerosene stoves. Sari tip ablaze, she is now wedded
to fire. Her shrieks of fear echo across an uncaring sky, fringed

by silent trees that weep for a womanhood burning in dowry
fire.  Household gods disappear behind the veil of smoke
that shrouds the immolating goddess, hair ablaze, red eyes

glaring, her mouth, a furnace, with lolling tongues of fire.
Her deafening roars fill the sky with black terror as she
revolves in a circle of flames like Kali[4] devouring time.

Dark and formless, she crumbles and dissolves in a stifling
flood.  Draped in the odours of burnt flesh, her resplendent
bridal form, now spectre like, haunts the wailing air.

Beautiful hennaed[5] hands, shredded to blisters, her comely
face charred by flames, she remains a splinter in mother’s
heart, a sigh on father’s lips,  a tear on every cheek, an indelible

mark on the wrinkled forehead of a degenerate world.
How many more will burn in the sacrilege of dowry fires,
before this lackadaisical, sleeping nation wakes up? 

Let every fire become a woman and every woman, a fire!

© Usha Kishore

[1] Sati – a self-immolating Hindu goddess. Sati is also an abolished funeral practice, in which widows used to burn themselves on the funeral pyre of their husbands.
[2] Altar of fire - Hindu marital vows are made around an altar of fire.
[3] Shehnai  -  a musical wind instrument, made of reed, played during Indian marriages
[4] Kali- Hindu Goddess of destruction
[5] Hennaed  hands – as in Henna designs on hands

Author's note: Bride burning, also known as dowry death, is a form of domestic violence in India, where young brides are burnt to death in kitchen fires by their in-laws, when their families fail to meet dowry demands.  Statistics show that one Indian woman, between the age of 15 and 34, is burned to death every hour.

Dowry deaths are the hidden curse of the big fat Indian wedding
Protesters demand speedy probe in dowry death

Indian born Usha Kishore is an internationally published poet, resident on the Isle of Man. Her work has won prizes in UK competitions and recently shorlisted for the Erbacce Prize 2012 .