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15/02/2016

Mudumai Kolam

Shash Trevett

In 2015, Writers’ Centre Norwich and The Select Centre in Singapore ran the Translators Lab, an online translation course with workshops translating from Chinese, Malay and Tamil into English. In the Tamil strand, participants worked with Lakshmi Holmström and Subashree Krishnaswamy to translate poetry by KTM Iqbal and a story by Dilip Kumar. This poem, by Shash Trevett, is a creative response, inspired by the work of both authors.

 

Feet planted in perfect balance,
she bends each morning
deftly dotting the floor.
Each pulli a prayer,
each sikku a curving embrace.

The fish, birds and flowers,
her suns, moons and stars,
her patterned privations
flow through from the outside
in, a propitiation –

so that he might not
disappear into the darkness,
so that her lips might
call him forth from the unknown.
Each curve and syllable of his name
a proclamation of his absence.

For months she has performed
these mudumai kolams,
for him.

While somewhere,
he washes her feet daily
with his tears.

 

 

Shash Trevett refers in her poem both to Dilip Kumar’s story and to KTM Iqbal’s poem. Her title depends on a near pun: Mudumai Kolam with a retroflexive ‘l’ means ‘sphere of old age’, whereas Mudumai Kolam with a palliative ‘l’ means ‘patterns of old age’; Shash uses this second meaning. Kolams are the patterns drawn by Tamil women in front of houses as an offering to deities. They are made up of dots (pulli) and strokes (sikku).

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