to Chinnu (Anjana Harish)
Did your Amma tell you too
that the chembarathi was a sign of madness?
My Amma did. You know, because Pappu
the ‘madman comic’, wears it before Dr. Sunny
gently ‘fixes’ him with a knock to his head,
after saving Ganga from Nagavalli’s Ghost
in Manichitrathazhu, cult
psychological horror where women are
both accused & victim.
Chembarathi became this Madness–
through repetition, internal rhymes
of malayalam comedy,
dialogue our families love quoting with
umpteen rules about being the right Malayali
penne, all straight, like the
goddamn pasta. Did you like penne? Or did you
like Parotta, maida layers & oil, quintessential
Malayali food? I’m an idiyappam person though.
I–I mean–my hair is as straight
as its steamed, squished noodles. You would
get this joke. I can’t translate
the joke to Malayalam–no words
for us, not any I know.
You might have; you studied Malayalam, but
your Amma didn’t understand
it anyway. I can guess. Her first
question must have been are you
mad? I know how Ammas are. To try help you,
she took you to school, church, therapy, where
they knocked you around to
put sense in you/get english nonsense out,
like a stuck chala fish-bone
they can heimlich out & not
our ribs, cracking into heart.
Curious me googled ‘chembarathi’ and result:
represents the feminine. trope twisted stigma.
Did you know the lifespan of a chembarathi
at full bloom was one day?
That’s how long the news cared. I dug
through the articles for weeks, found photos
of you smiling with her, both in matching red
and that you went by Chinnu instead – a pet-name,
from your chosen family? Or maybe pen-name?
We are no Kamala Das & even she went
by Madhavikutty. I get it.
our day to be an open book is not
chembarathi – Hibiscus
chala – A type of fish commonly eaten in Kerala
Penne – Girl in Malayalam (in latin letters)
Manichitrathazhu – a famous psychological thriller/horror in Malayalam Cinema.
Kamala Das – Malayali poet and writer, famous/controversial for her depictions of same-sex relations in her poetry/autobiography/fiction
idiyappam – A steamed rice noodle cake common to Southern India, often eaten with curries
Parotta – A type of bread, with Beef Fry; it is the most well known food in Kerala.
Written by Rouha.
Photograph by Nydia Blas, “Untitled” from The Girls Who Spun Gold, 2016.