Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Vasanti Unka’s ‘Mothers’

Our mothers

crafted our boats
with sugar cane sticks • we clinked
silvery anklets • we sang giggling x-rated lyrics
we laughed at our own silly antics • we were daring
we were betrothed at thirteen • we were betrothed at three
we met our husbands once • we tied a sari around our waist we tied
our hair into a bun • we painted a red sun on our foreheads •  we were
beautiful • we were dutiful • we said goodbye to our bha • we left our village
our dev • we travelled so far • we were children • we consoled the baby
in our womb • we carried our child on our hip • we climbed
aboard a ship • we spewed the journey • we chewed
the paan • we heard the waves chant • we shed no
tears • we are adventurers • we are
seers • we saw further than
the distance.

Vasanti Unka

Picture book creator Vasanti Unka is generally known for her quirky and colourful kids books for kids for which she was awarded an Arts Foundation Laurette for illustration (2021). Born in Pukekohe – her parents arrived here from India in the 1940s and ’50s – Vasanti has been unpicking her heritage. A book she compiled, With a Suitcase of Saris: From India to Aotearoa, Stories of Pioneer Indian Women, is being used in the new NZ history curriculum. More recently she has been writing a bit of poetry and prose about being Indian in Aotearoa.

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