SWAGATALAKSHMI ROYCHOWDHURY | CREATIVES
I hopped off the ferry at Manly
And strolled past pastel houses…
At Manly markets,
I ruffled through cardigans,
How they would go
With my mother's sari.
I stepped onto warm sand,
Past Norfolk Island pine trees,
And shivered at surfers surfing
Even at seventeen degrees,
And I thought of how early
My father used to wake up,
To go for a brisk walk
At the Botanical gardens.
I strolled up Grotto Point Lighthouse
To escape the cackle of seagulls,
And sight cormorants and whales.
I sighted engraved boomerangs
On Indigenous rocks
And I gazed at them for ages, mystified.
It reminded me of my brother's art.
Walking up to the wharf,
My legs almost gave up…
But the caramel gelato
Kept me going.
And as I drifted into the sea breeze,
In my dad's old sweater,
My eyes grew blurry,
And I thought of how
My little sister would also like
To sail past the Opera House
With a caramel gelato
In her hands.
Everywhere I look,
I see remnants of you,
And I must wait…
I must wait…
Till I see you again.
Origins of the poem ‘Adrift.’
“It is the constant sunshine, it hides everything but itself,” said Rudi in the movie Ladies in Black. An apt saying that goes for everyone in Sydney.
Sydney is an arcade. And we are star-struck children lost in it. Life is beautiful, pleasurable, but mostly on the surface. Nobody talks about struggles, especially about the struggles of international students. Nobody talks about their lived experiences. For me, it has been a struggle not being able to see my family for two years. I wrote the poem, ‘Adrift,’ for my family.
I look back on that time I walked
From Coogee to Bondi,
And think how you would've marvelled at the sight;
And you wouldn't have said
That I'm going to a ‘desert’ for my higher education.
I look at the ocean and see you;
Because all I can remember is how your love
Encompasses the ocean.
I see you in rectangles
Over and over,
Until it becomes unbearable;
And all I want is your presence,
All I want is you next to me,
All I want is you to tell me:
“It'll be okay.”
Origins of the poem ‘Ocean.’
She stirred the milk in the pan. She stirred and stirred. The smell of vermicelli kheer was mouth-watering.
“Are you going to share?” I asked my housemate Aashi,* when I entered the kitchen. She seemed absent. Lost. When she saw me, she smiled. Her smile did not reach her eyes however. She probably hadn’t heard me.
“So will you share?” I ask.
“Of course, I will,” she responded. I wished her an “Eid Mubarak” and she wished me back. It was my first time celebrating Eid with my Bangladeshi housemate. However, she did not seem happy that day.
“My ammu cried today. Her eyes were red. She said, ‘who am I cooking for when you’re not here?’”
She said. “Onek kosto kore thamiyechi.” (Translation: I stopped my mother’s tears with great effort).
“Then he called. I was trying not to cry. With great difficulty, I wished him today,” she said, referring to her husband.
Aashi misses her family. But her husband is the one she misses the most. She has not seen him in two years. They only got to spend six months with him after marriage before leaving for Australia for her postgraduate studies. Her husband was applying for a spouse visa, but COVID-19 put all their plans to pause. She waits for him, she craves for him, she agonises over every wasted second she isn’t with him.
After work, if she isn’t too tired, she would tell me about how work has become a sort of worship to her. “If I’m not working, I feel empty. Hopeless, sort of… Keeping myself in my room, staying cooped up, is for me, a kind of escape,” she said to me. “I could spend time with literally anyone, but my family is all I want.”
I wrote this poem ‘Ocean’ in response to her story.
*Name has been changed.