Poems by Manjiri Indurkar


Ants are medical prodigies


Did you know that if you turn red ants

into a chutney you will never get a bacterial

infection?  Ants, many believe, are medical prodigies.


 An ant colony once helped detecting

diabetes and early childhood blindness

in a friend who couldn’t understand

why ants bit him, every time he peed.


When he mentioned it to me, I suggested he pray

to the ant god, Nyonye-Ngana,

whose name we didn’t know then,

but even if we did, we wouldn’t be able to pronounce it.


My hypothesis was that he had

disrespected the humble, hard working ants,

and had left them with no choice.

But what if his susu is delicious, suggested another friend.


What if they are trying to crawl inside his nunu?

Shouldn’t he taste his susu before summoning the ant god?

Why waste his time if a simple taste test can solve our problems?

Or we could just offer ants our susu and see, if they like it just as much.


So in empty bottles of Vaseline petroleum jelly

we offered ants our urine,

but only his was the crowd pleaser.

We informed everyone of our

discovery, and they were pleased.

 Because, ants are wise, and attracted to wisdom.

Ask anyone.


Funereal Stories


Aai talks about death again.

All the good swimmers we know

are drowning themselves in water.

Acche tairaak ki maut paani mein hoti hai,

she reminds me, when we find out

Baba’s friend’s son drowned in the Narmada.

He was a national swimmer, the newspapers

said, but Aai already knew that, not

because someone told her,

but because she is exceptional at this guessing game.


We aren’t in mourning, but we are creatures of habit

so we talk of each one who died of drowning,

and I listen to her stories with the patience

of a chronicler. A father and son duo,

died in Omkareshwar, a few years back.

The man’s wife still believes, they might come

back. The son was playing and accidentally

pushed the father, and they both fell into

the water, the current dragging them away.

Another father son duo drowned in a well

in their own front yard. The son drowned first,

the father drowned because he jumped in

to save the son. Expert swimmers,

all the these people.


My mother remembers the son who

drowned in the well, as the boy who

ate salt, when there was nothing else

to eat. He never complained. As if it’s a virtue

that should have given him a longer life,

but the grim reaper only knows how to kill.

Your virtues aren’t of any use to him,

nor are your talents. It’s why swimmers

also drown and die. Swimming is not

a survival skill, after all.


Just when you think that we are done

with all the drowning stories, and are

ready to move on from another death

that did not happen to us, Aai comes up

with a new one. A relative who was part

of a big circus crew in the ‘60s, once

drowned in the Arabian Sea. Now,

don’t ask me if he was good at swimming

or not, I don’t want to spoil the story.


He drowned and the family looked for him,

waited for the sea to throw him back,

the sea always gives back, whatever it takes,

Aai said. But the sea seemed to have eaten him.

And digested his bones.

Twenty five years later, when his mom was

visiting the city of his drowning,

she saw a shop, named after her son.

So, she went to the shop, and there he was,

her drowned son, who the sea did not return,

selling groceries like it is the most obvious thing.


Once you drown and come back, how else do

you survive, if not by selling survival itself?

So there he was, reunited with his family again.

People do come back, says Aai thoughtfully.

Why didn’t he get in touch or try to find them

for twenty five years, I ask. But the story time

is over now. All questions can wait till the

next funeral arrives. 



Manjiri Indurkar writes from Jabalpur. She is the author of It’s All in Your Head, M published by Tranquebar, Westland. She is one of the founders of the Bookshelf Writing Workshop. Her chapbook of poetry Dental Hygiene is Very Important was published in 2017. Her debut poetry collection entitled ‘Origami Aai’ will be published in 2021 by Westland. Her works have appeared in places like the Indian Quarterly, Cha: Asian Literary Journal, Scroll, Indian Express, Poetry at Sangam, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Himal, Skin Stories, Indian Cultural Forum, and elsewhere

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