My first art teacher was my uncle
who was a boy. He, at fourteen,
took my seven-year-old drawings
of long-haired mermaids and flowers
and handed me the backside of
one of his exam papers, with
red ink splattered on the surface.
He then centered a chair in the
room – which I sketched – my brown pencil
shading over the blood-like stains.
There was art, in eating bhel puri
from a shal patha, the dried leaf
folded into a cone or box.
Lunch on his birthday was placed on
a banana leaf, a kola
patha, its face larger than mine.
Our fingers would wipe the slate clean
of our meal – of each drop of jhol.
At noon, our handmade kites would get
caught into clotheslines on the roof,
on petticoats and sheets dripping
water onto the cement floor.
I saw art when I saw my mother’s
prize books lining the dusty shelves
of the almari in the bedroom,
kept intact with newsprint covers,
so I didn’t know the titles
until I leafed through the pages.
Now I see recycling cans in
classrooms, paper signs promoting
green living. I imagine piles
of trash, and the burning of wood –
the residue ash that my
uncle would use to whiten his
teeth every morning.