“when your brother dies in a riot” by Archita Mittra
when your brother dies in a riot
you forget his name, but not his religion
that you exile yourself from. you can
remember a history lesson, in a half-lit
dusty classroom- Mangal Pandey’s
name scrawled in chalk dust and
a story about beef cartridges you
later doodled in a copy filled with
poetry that they call anti-national.
you laugh because all gods are insecure,
fractured little myths.
your mother burnt sandalwood incense
to the Goddess every Thursday evening,
chanting words you’d sometimes taste
on your lips even though later, your
alcoholic father shall die penniless
and your brother shall be killed in a riot
and you shall set fire to their dead
bodies by an ancient river where
you once played hide and seek with
people who believed in different gods.
you yourself always believed in different
gods to suit your purposes. it was always
so convenient but only in secret.
inside temples you were a pilgrim
and in mosques, an outsider
though you knew neither language
completely and shamed your parents
but saved your life. your brother had
only one god who blessed him with
one death: a knife through the stomach.
when you went back for the body, it was only
meat and blood, and decayed with hate.
and it reminded you of a cow’s carcass
someone had placed in front of your
doorstep a week back or a million
years ago when the old gods had still
been alive somewhere, beautiful
with painted eyes and garlands stitched
by silent women, now rotting in an ancient
river where you long to drown
not just your soul but the thousand year-
old identity fitted onto you as perfectly
as a coffin that confines a skeleton.
every memory is circular, with a bitter
aftertaste. your faceless brother
is only blood and rain and fire and
anti-national poetry , your god
a shadow, alive in death and your life
locked in a past that smells of childhood
and everything else that you lost.
Archita Mittra is a wordsmith and visual artist with a love for all things vintage & darkly fantastical. A student of English Literature at Jadavpur University, she is also pursuing a Diploma in Multimedia and Animation from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. She has won several writing contests and her work has appeared in numerous online and print publications including Quail Bell Magazine, eFiction India, Life In 10 Minutes, Teenage Wasteland Review and Tuck Magazine, among others.
She occasionally practices as a tarot card reader.
You can read more of her work on https://thepolyphonicphoenix.wordpress.com/