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Poetry

“Chhanna,” the Metal Bowl

By Amarjit Chandan
Translated from Punjabi by Sarabjeet Garcha
Contemplating a family heirloom, a ruminative Amarjit Chandan finds the past staring back at him.

Clocks books and keepsakes
never tell what the time now is
inside them the clock strikes 11 after 1
before 1 there’s zero

the flat-bottom metal bowl
balanced on the mantelpiece roils
letting out sounds as if
slipping out of hand a filled cup
has just emptied itself
or as if at midnight a cat
is raking darkness in a kitchen corner
or as if quaffing her thirst Mother
has just set the bowl down

this bowl is older than i
it is filled with memories
like salt dissolved in yogurt milk
Father licks his greased mustache
Mother giggles at something she recalls
from times long past

the cracked bowl is her only heirloom
the chhayapatra hovering in a nook
always holds my mother in the folds
of remembrance


The Sanskrit word
chhanna is both a noun meaning a bronze bowl with its rim inclined inward and an adjective meaning hidden, mysterious, secret. According to Indian astrology, a chhanna is used for chhayadan, a practice—believed to negate the debilitating influences of malefic planets—in which the donor looks at his or her reflection in the mustard oil contained in an alms vessel before dropping a coin into it. That is why the vessel is also called chhayapatra, meaning, literally, “reflection vessel.”


© Amarjit Chandan. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2018 by Sarabjeet Garcha. All rights reserved.

English

Clocks books and keepsakes
never tell what the time now is
inside them the clock strikes 11 after 1
before 1 there’s zero

the flat-bottom metal bowl
balanced on the mantelpiece roils
letting out sounds as if
slipping out of hand a filled cup
has just emptied itself
or as if at midnight a cat
is raking darkness in a kitchen corner
or as if quaffing her thirst Mother
has just set the bowl down

this bowl is older than i
it is filled with memories
like salt dissolved in yogurt milk
Father licks his greased mustache
Mother giggles at something she recalls
from times long past

the cracked bowl is her only heirloom
the chhayapatra hovering in a nook
always holds my mother in the folds
of remembrance


The Sanskrit word
chhanna is both a noun meaning a bronze bowl with its rim inclined inward and an adjective meaning hidden, mysterious, secret. According to Indian astrology, a chhanna is used for chhayadan, a practice—believed to negate the debilitating influences of malefic planets—in which the donor looks at his or her reflection in the mustard oil contained in an alms vessel before dropping a coin into it. That is why the vessel is also called chhayapatra, meaning, literally, “reflection vessel.”


© Amarjit Chandan. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2018 by Sarabjeet Garcha. All rights reserved.

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