Photography © Jennifer Matthews
Born 5 summers before me
Who wrapped me up in bright coloured dupatta’s when it was cold
And smiled at me
And made me feel warm.
I’d pass her on my way to school,
And on the way back, I’d wave at her against the backdrop of a setting sun
As she wandered through the farmland, bright and blazing.
Her eyes often caught the residue skylight, her dark orbs mirroring the setting sun.
Her dupatta balanced on her shoulders, trailing behind her
carried by the warm summer breeze, filtering the light, sunbeams and shadows.
And sometimes, she’d walk me back
Holding my hand extra tight,
Squeezing life and warmth into my cold hands.
She’d watch the farm’s millet crops grow steadily, strong, and bracing the winds
And during the monsoon season, she’d run with me in the rain, damp and muddy feet splashing in the puddles.
Our neighbourhood was a little strange.
I never understood it quite well
But here we were, all people, all born, all there,
Yet divided by some invisible line, some blurry trail that no one dared to cross.
But one day, when I was ten I was forbidden to love her anymore.
I loved her as a friend loves a friend. As a sister loves a sister. A daughter loves a mother.
I avoided her after that, but I’d see her on the way back from school, and I’d pick my hand up to wave,
Instinct maybe, or love,
But I’d drop it before she could see.
Invisible lines breaking through the horizon, dividing.
She was always there, always in the farmland,
Working and smiling and shining so very bright.
And I knew, silently, that if she were to compete with the sun, she’d win.
And one day,
On a stormy day after school, I thought of her and the warmth she shared.
I was drinking a warm cup of chai at a nearby stall,
Whose steam warmed my hands in her place,
Waiting for the sunset,
For, I wanted to wave to her on my way back this time,
I wanted to defy the invisible divides,
I wanted to give back some of the warmth she’d given me.
I was drinking a cup of chai so fast that it burned my tongue,
And left a bitter aftertaste that lingered long after I had digested the news
As I walked back, as I sprinted to catch the setting of the sun,
With a slippery smile falling off my face,
But she couldn’t wave back.
I could see her, stark against the long millet crops,
Being carried away,
Her dupatta dull and hanging loose
And the setting sun clouded, covered by the dark, dark sky storming above.
The clouds mourning the loss of the sun personified,
The sunlit girl,
Who weathered 19 monsoon rains,
Who walked the farms length, day in and day out,
Who loved those around her, and was deeply loved
Had seen her last rising sun, her last drifting cloud, her last monsoon rain.
Then, all I wished for was to hold her hand tighter, to cling to her,
To wave at her one last time.
To give a little warmth back.
I wanted to wish on each setting sun
Each trail of light
Each burning of the sky with its bright red powerful hues
That this will change,
that justice will be served,
that humanity will prevail.
Teresa Thomas: “‘Hathras’ is about the Hathras rape case that happened last year. The case became highly political because of the caste issues around it and because of how the case was dealt with. In India, the caste system, especially in places like Hathras, is always lingering like invisible divides. It dictates who can be loved and by whom and who is worthy of respect. It’s completely unjust. The 19-year-old victim was known to frequent the farmlands and millet crops where she was found. I used the dupatta ( scarf) reference throughout because she often wore one and it was also another thing those men stole from her. I just wanted to give her story more dimension. The news initially, didn’t really make her seem like a person. This is my attempt to humanize her, show that she was loved and was worthy of dignity, equality, and life because she is human. Further, In a subtle way, I wanted to draw attention to the horrible crimes that are committed in India, and the societal issues that are always there like the caste system.”
Poet/Photographer Jennifer Matthews’ poetry has been published in Nepal by Pen Himalaya and locally by the Wilderness Retreat Writers Organization, Midway Journal, The Somerville Times, Ibbetson Street Press and Boston Girl Guide. Jennifer was nominated for a poetry award by the Cambridge Arts Council for her book of Poetry Fairy Tales and Misdemeanors. Her songs have been released nationally and internationally and her photography has been used as covers for a number of Ibbetson Street Press poetry books and has been exhibited at The Middle East Restaurant, 1369 Coffeehouses, Sound Bites Restaurant in Somerville and McLean Hospital.