Reading: On Seeing A Watermelon by Monika Kumar

Monka Kumar (b. 1977) is a Hindi poet. Her interests include the folklore and folk culture of Punjab, contemporary literary theory and world poetry. She also writes a PhD thesis on the work of François Lyotard. I read a fruity love poem in the translation by Sampurna Chattarji:

On Seeing A Watermelon
Seeing a watermelon was my introduction to vastness.

I can only approximate
how much I love you:

by the handful,
as much as the sea
or not at all.

Approximations fail me
when I look at a watermelon.
How red it will be
how fleshy
how its meditative eyes would be arrayed inside.

You were stubborn in your insistence:
the earth is round as an orange.
You refused to accept
it could also be like a watermelon.

I lied to you
when I said I can tell you, approximately,
how much I love you.

All estimations are a failure of my language.
I need a few signs of exclamation
mad transports
that will gently translate my failures.

Approximations have to do with measurable quantity: how love I love you was measured (handful, sea-much, not at all). The sublime vastness however can’t be approximated. The poet talks about qualities like redness and fleshyness and the meditative eyes that are the little seeds of the watermelon.

Her lover doesn’t get it. He is looking for a fruity approximation of pure roundness instead of the more imaginative watermelon.

Of course her approximation of how much she loves him was a lie. She told him so only to please him. She didn’t want to tell him there is failure in everything she says. She needs ‘mad transports’ to translate her failures. Translate them into what and why? Perhaps her lover will learn to understand them as gestures, never mind their lack of accuracy. The fact that she is approximating her love for him is enough, as long as her failures are translated into gestures of ‘pure’ love without qualification.

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