Print This Publication

Beyond Our Foremothers' Wildest Dreams—Three Micro Fictions—Chitra Gopalakrishnan



by Chitra Gopalakrishnan

Kollam by Pattamal Ramanath

(Kollams are aesthetic, hand-created designs by women in South India using rice flour. Mostly geometric and sometimes artistic, like this one, they come alive each day at dawn outside the entrance to each home to welcome the emerging day and its possibilities. This after the ground is first purified with cow dung and water)

Our foremothers may no longer physically be here but the images in the mirror show they are very much still here. As an incredible force and family for every woman today. 

As each one of us attempts to redefine our roles in society, solidify our identities, and in particular, come into new understandings of our relationships with one another, we become aware of them, their telling, the tenderness with which they nurtured their girls and one another. 

Our foremothers' hope lies in each one of us becoming their wildest dreams, with the power and freedom they did not possess. Or imagine.

Will we?


Five Girls Through A Thread Of Time

Named after the red lotus, my great grandmother, Sengamalam, at eight, refused to be a second wife to a man twice her age.

This on an emerald-green monsoon day in 1870 afire with thunder and wet with heat in Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu.

This on the very day her brother stretched out his hand from thatched dome of the bullock cart for a final wave, its two wooden wheels carrying him to his freedom, to his education beyond the false spring of their Kaveri delta.

Your father has decided your fate, said her mother, the wheeze of her voice gathering hard consonants.


In 1900, at ten, my grandmother, Rajalakshmi, was dragged from watching squirrels in tree hollows, made to change from her uniform into a silk pavadai, from twin to a single plait, read (as she stubbornly declined to sing) and then told she was marrying the man sitting across.

This even as her sentences ran on, tripping over grammatically correct words, ones she unpunctuated and blurred in her nervousness.

I did not know then I was not born to rule, as my name tells me, or study, as I longed to, but to brim with children, matching his skin, not mine, she said.


My mothers eyes were brought back from far-off places they had gone searching for the new at eighteen.

Her eyes clean as glass were made to stare out at one image in 1948: her marriage.

Malathy, there is a message in your name that means a creeper. Your life must be entwined with the impeccable stillness and edgeless hours of the indoors. 

Yet the world outside hinted at a deeper green to her, a lush promise that she swallowed whole.

We need to stop telling the story about the woman who stays home, waiting, passive and dependent, she told me.


There is a part of me that longs to write, a part that wants to think and a part of me that wants to paint

I dont force myself into one role, wife, mother or daughter as I did when younger.

At sixty in 2022, I am this, I am that.

My past sometimes ghosts its way back, my present tugs at my sleeve to point at a future I never anticipated.

I let the days come by and I go with them. 

It is a flowing feeling, like my name Yamuna, a river that drifts loose, untied and free.


My daughter Tiya lives up to her name which means a bird.

She carries herself to the worlds furthest distances, soaring high not pulling back.

At thirty-four today, she is a boss lady, tasting the friction and elation of each experience to the utmost.

Yet with a unique, additional ability to care and share, to leave the world a better place for women.

In her, I see a woman in full circle with dreams and freedoms unimagined before.

With a new-born girl in her arms, I recognise her power to create, nurture, shape and transform a new life, a new generation, with extraordinary ideas of dare and divergence.

Even more than hers.


A Secret Is A Jealous Thing

As a child, I realise one does not get to choose ones demon. Instead, it chooses you.

My demon chose me two years ago as I turned seven.

Even as he taught me to sing at home, he said, This is our secret, you cant tell anyone.”

He held his grip and would not let me go till I said I would tell no one of the thing.

A thing for which I had no name. I still dont.

You will die if you do, he said.

I had to believe him just as I had to believe that he would teach me Carnatic music in this sequence - sarale varase, janti varase, alankaram, geetham, varnam, krithi and devaranama.

At this age, I did not know the difference between safe and unsafe secrets. 

Or between teacher and tormentor.

Or that hidden truths can be revealed.

That they need not be buried forever. 

This, as we, in our family, were taught to guard secrets.

My mother had told me that my younger sister did not come out of her tummy the way I had.

That her parents did not want her. That she would die from sadness if she knew this.

The fear of her finding out, of her dying of grief, made us hide things from her as a family, as from others, as from ourselves, from our actual minds. 

My mother, father and I were bound by a bond of silence as we were by a strange kind of togetherness. 

When the demon chose me to keep his secret, one that belonged to me alone the day I agreed to do so thinking it normal.

Yet I found it hard to bear it singly. Harder than anything in the world.

It sat inside of me, stony, swollen and silent.

Then it wrote its story within me.

I did not how to make a pocket for it, say in the hollow of my throat, to tuck it away, to put away my fear of dying.

I knew I would soon burst from it so all I could think of is to push it into the underworld.

Into the seven realms of the universe that exist beneath the ground we stand on. 

My grandfather had told me of them and their names: Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rastala and Patala. 

Not mythical but real worlds where each one has many, many secrets, he said.

Their names sound to me like words with real, natural sounds. Like words that speak the truth, I said to him.

Like what words, he asked, squinting at me.

Like cock-a-doodle-doo, hee-haw, oink, hiss, boom, crash, whack, thump, bang, shush, giggle, growl, whine, murmur, blurt, whisper, I said. 

Yes, yes, yes, he agreed, with his toothless smile, These are natural and real worlds just as ours is, just as your words are. 

But they are worlds that hold secrets too, he reminded me.

So I got these worlds to hold my secret, to let it slide from Atala to the depths of Patala from where it can never be got back.

Daily, I see my secret floating down, down, down, only to twist itself within the tumble of secrets below.

Till it is no longer is possible to single out the thread of my secret.

But what of the secret that still gets written inside of me? 

It is a jealous thing, a possessive thing, it sits itself back inside of me to tell me the same story.

My school counsellor, who really wants to know what I think and feel, has asked me to trust her with my secret. 

She said, I can sense you have one, a scary one.”

It is okay to tell me. I will sort it out your trouble and believe me when I say it wont get around, she promised.

Children have many rights, you know, she also said.

I dont.

I always thought children are meant to obey older people. But its good to know we have freedoms, unlike my mother, her mother and the mothers before.

I think I will tell. 



She builds-in silences within.

In its infiniteness.

Does she fear figures of speech will conspire meanings behind her back?

Force unintended, centuries-old connotations through metaphor, symbol and allegory?

Does she fear the language of the figurative will jumble facts?

Knot truth and fiction, past and present, ancestry and the contemporary into subjective translations?

Is that why she prefers omissions, trailing off in thought and dialogue?

Miming meaning or something close to it?

Is that why she prefers speechlessness, spaces before, between and after speech?

Silences and their aftershocks that do not ring and echo, echo and ring?

But does she know that sometimes silence can be depleting?

And leave one empty of natural kindness?   

Does she know that sometimes silence can be isolating?

And leave one furrowed alone, bereft of sisterhood?

Oh daughter mine, learn the language of love.

One that is light and hangs like honey from a spoon.

Oh daughter mine, learn the language of trust. 

One that is solid like soil and anchors vast landscapes.

Oh daughter mine, dont build-in silences within.

In its infiniteness, find your voice instead and the courage to use it.

Like your mother does.

As your foremothers did.


Popular Posts