For Fall Poetry Event: The Sweetest Jaggery

A poem for the Poetry Salon by Supreet Bains Sharma

She didn’t know
A mother and father could exist.
Yet they did. In a village not too far.
“My Aunt and Uncle took me in”,
She said, “For I was born and didn’t die.”

She doesn’t remember much of the early days –
Scoldings, beatings, love.
Two pairs of shapeless clothes – mostly white
And the sweet, sweet taste of jaggery.

The jaggery, or “gur” as it’s known
Was of outstanding quality.
“My father told me
It’s the mitti it’s grown in –
The flavor of the moist,
Soft, dark, loamy soil
Fostered by generations
Of careful, painful farming,
Irrigated by sweetness of two rivers.
You will not find this taste elsewhere.” 

She wandered the fields all day.
She remembers falling down when nine,
Going home hurt and crying.
Her aunt scolded, put salve on the shine,
Then scolded some more.
And gave her makki ki roti with
Sweet ghee….and sweet, sweet jaggery
“I’m 80 now”, she said,
It’s the sweetest thing I ever tasted.”

She was the leader of two, sometimes three –
a motley crew of wingmen to her spree
of climbing trees, stealing fruit,
Not paying attention in school,
running through the fields of corn –
Ah! Such luxurious life, to freedom born.

Once she wanted to roast the corn cobs
but where? She found a spot with
Low burning fires, heaped piles of wood,
Perfect. Just like coal!
The corn was sweet, almost like jaggery.
No one told her it was a shamshan ghaat.

Maybe that’s how she became
The fearless one.
Maybe it was the regular beatings
(That never stopped her from antics anew)
or maybe it was one beating in particular
The one by the stairs, when
she fell down a step or two
or three or four or maybe more.
Who knew?
But, she said to me, it was okay –

Recovery took ten days, and each day
She had the sweetest jaggery
“My aunt fed me by hand in remorse
It tasted sweeter still.”

At twelve, enriched by her nomad upbringing –
The carefree moons and wanderlust noons,
The uncaring of clothes and shoes
The unloving of things all tamed –
Her aunt died. She was motherless.  

The world said – she has parents,
To them she must go.
Living with her Uncle was a no.
In a village not too far
She discovered she had a mother,
Father – and three siblings,
all younger. “Two brothers!”
Said her mother triumphantly
“Two sons I bore!
I was told I would have sons
Two brothers, you have
Both waaris to this land!”
The sister wasn’t important.

Back in her house – was it home?
She became the leader again
this time to three siblings unknown,
And a fourth, an adopted brother –
She knew how he felt. 
Life had changed, she had to, as well.
From vagabond and wanderer,
She became the elder sister. 

She set the standard for discipline
Fighting for the right reasons now.
She gave back as good as she got,
Discovered there were things to be taught,
Fists the currency of respect bought.
She did what had to be done
She made a place in an abode
which had never known her.

The difference was –
The jaggery was sweet,
Just not as much as before.

“I’m 80 now”, she said to me.
The land is long gone,
Split among brothers and sold off.
The ground over farmed –
Tortured and converted,
The river waters dammed and diverted.
No wonder then,
The jaggery is contaminated.”

“Do you know how jaggery is made?”
She asked me.
“Tall, proud sugarcane is crushed,
Twisted and squeezed
Till the last drop is taken from it.
The juice is boiled and boiled again
To reduce it.
The tougher the treatment
The purer the jaggery.”

She smiled softly, “I love jaggery.
It’s part of my land, my life, my being.
It’s in my soul. It is in me.”

I look at her and marvel.
So this is how
I have the sweetest jaggery
In my life. I have her. 

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