Between Red and Green

Jhilam Chattaraj

(India)


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I often walk around my neighbourhood. Each time, it’s like crossing a new frontier — one that has restitched the seams of my local landscape — Old City, Hyderabad. Besides, the world feels more tactile on foot.

First, I bought jamuns — soft, purple, cylindrical. I offered to pay cash but the lady requested a digital transaction. I walked on. Then, I paused a while to watch the traffic signal play with people’s patience — bones seized by the motion of birds at the blink of green. I felt stagnant witnessing the ceaseless flow of cars and bikes. So, I walked towards the railway station.

Suddenly, a huge rock rose before me. It was stained and wore an unbearable stench. In faded red, someone had painted on the rock: “do not pass urine here.” In front of the station was a ripe, old banyan tree — dogs, beggars, pilgrims slept under its cool shade. Bright red pulpy berries sprouted between glossy green leaves — souvenirs of a poem by Wallace Stevens.

Next, I went to a temple — barefoot on white marble; Hindu gods like krishna, shiva, hanuman were under one roof, including a few god-like politicians — their humongous posters occupied the temple sky. The priest offered me holy water. I collected my slippers, clean and intact from the ‘free slipper stands.’ Moments later, my feet sank in a mush of thick cow dung.

I could not care. Before me was an antique red house under the glowing green of a rain-fragrant gulmohar tree. She was a wrinkled bride waiting for her wedding night — perhaps like Miss Havisham. Garbage from the streets piled at her door. Her stillness made me sad.

In the waning light of the evening, the city began to sing. I felt safe. Not a single man bothered me — their heads remained buried in phones — our post-covid, incurable contagion. On my way back, I bought a string of jasmine blossoms — the sweetest musk of Indian summer.

Jhilam Chattaraj

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.

Jhilam Chattaraj is an academic and poet based in India. Her works have been published at Calyx, Ariel, Colorado Review, World Literature Today and Asian Cha among others.

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