The House of My Childhood

In honor of Vikram Smavat New Year, we present this work by one of modern India’s most evocative poets.

10-25 Chitre
Dilip Chitre
Indian
1938 – 2009

 

The house of my childhood stood empty
On a grey hill
All its furniture gone
Except my grandmother’s grindstone
And the brass figurines of her gods

After the death of all birds
Bird-cries still fill the mind
After the city’s erasure
A blur still peoples the air
In the colourless crack that comes before morning
In a place where nobody can sing
Words distribute their silence
Among intricately clustered glyphs

My grandmother’s voice shivers on a bare branch
I toddle around the empty house
Spring and summer are both gone
Leaving an elderly infant
To explore the rooms of age

The Old Playhouse

In honor of Durga Puja, we present this work by one of modern India’s most evocative poets.

z 10-13-21
Kamala Surayya
Indian
1934 – 2009

 

You planned to tame a swallow, to hold her
In the long summer of your love so that she would forget
Not the raw seasons alone, and the homes left behind, but
Also her nature, the urge to fly, and the endless
Pathways of the sky. It was not to gather knowledge
Of yet another man that I came to you but to learn
What I was, and by learning, to learn to grow, but every
Lesson you gave was about yourself. You were pleased
With my body’s response, its weather, its usual shallow
Convulsions. You dribbled spittle into my mouth, you poured

Yourself into every nook and cranny, you embalmed
My poor lust with your bitter-sweet juices. You called me wife,
I was taught to break saccharine into your tea and
To offer at the right moment the vitamins. Cowering
Beneath your monstrous ego I ate the magic loaf and
Became a dwarf. I lost my will and reason, to all your
Questions I mumbled incoherent replies. The summer
Begins to pall. I remember the rudder breezes
Of the fall and the smoke from the burning leaves. Your room is
Always lit by artificial lights, your windows always

Shut. Even the air-conditioner helps so little,
All pervasive is the male scent of your breath. The cut flowers
In the vases have begun to smell of human sweat. There is
No more singing, no more dance, my mind is an old
Playhouse with all its lights put out. The strong man’s technique is
Always the same, he serves his love in lethal doses,
For, love is Narcissus at the water’s edge, haunted

By its own lonely face, and yet it must seek at last
An end, a pure, total freedom, it must will the mirrors
To shatter and the kind night to erase the water.

A River

In honor of Gandhi Jayanti, we present this work by one of India’s most thoughtful poets.

10-02 Ramanujan
A.K. Ramanujan
Indian
1929 – 1993

 

In Madurai,
city of temples and poets,
who sang of cities and temples,
every summer
a river dries to a trickle
in the sand,
baring the sand ribs,
straw and women’s hair
clogging the watergates
at the rusty bars
under the bridges with patches
of repair all over them
the wet stones glistening like sleepy
crocodiles, the dry ones
shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun
The poets only sang of the floods.

He was there for a day
when they had the floods.
People everywhere talked
of the inches rising,
of the precise number of cobbled steps
run over by the water, rising
on the bathing places,
and the way it carried off three village houses,
one pregnant woman
and a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda as usual.

The new poets still quoted
the old poets, but no one spoke
in verse
of the pregnant woman
drowned, with perhaps twins in her,
kicking at blank walls
even before birth.

He said:
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
and then
it carries away
in the first half-hour
three village houses,
a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda
and one pregnant woman
expecting identical twins
with no moles on their bodies,
with different coloured diapers
to tell them apart.

Ambrosia Arbor

We present this work in honor of Ganesh Charturthi.

09-09 Osho
N.K. Osho
Indian
b. 1975

 

Thousandfold flowers unfetters fragrance…
Thousandfold powers dowers Deliverance…
All frith flowers adore thine aubade!
All Ambrosia audacious attunes along cascade!

When my myriad… mystic
Mood… in mute stands rustic
O’erflows joy e’er encompass!
Sacred love, encore! all onus… pious abyss!

Daze, dazzling… blushes those sweet flower,
Carries my Chariot thought to Rose land!
And thy relume thought compose and jocund!
Where withal… Whimsical thro’ Orison pervade

Sacred Symphony sings, enlightens the Planet
Sonorous savant, radiant grace compose sonnet.

The Rebel

We present this work in honor of the 45th anniversary of the poet’s death.

08-29 Islam
Kazi Nazrul Islam
Indian
1899 – 1976

 

Say, Valiant,
Say: High is my head!

Looking at my head
Is cast down the great Himalayan peak!
Say, Valiant,
Say: Ripping apart the wide sky of the universe,
Leaving behind the moon, the sun, the planets
and the stars
Piercing the earth and the heavens,
Pushing through Almighty’s sacred seat
Have I risen,
I, the perennial wonder of mother-earth!
The angry God shines on my forehead
Like some royal victory’s gorgeous emblem.
Say, Valiant,
Ever high is my head!

I am irresponsible, cruel and arrogant,
I an the king of the great upheaval,
I am cyclone, I am destruction,
I am the great fear, the curse of the universe.
I have no mercy,
I grind all to pieces.
I am disorderly and lawless,
I trample under my feet all rules and discipline!
I am Durjati, I am the sudden tempest of ultimate summer,
I am the rebel, the rebel-son of mother-earth!
Say, Valiant,
Ever high is my head!

I am the hurricane, I am the cyclone
I destroy all that I found in the path!
I am the dance-intoxicated rhythm,
I dance at my own pleasure,
I am the unfettered joy of life!
I am Hambeer, I am Chhayanata, I am Hindole,
I am ever restless,
I caper and dance as I move!
I do whatever appeals to me, whenever I like,
I embrace the enemy and wrestle with death,
I am mad. I am the tornado!
I am pestilence, the great fear,
I am the death of all reigns of terror,
I am full of a warm restlessness for ever!
Say, Valiant,
Ever high is my head!

I am creation, I am destruction,
I am habitation, I am the grave-yard,
I am the end, the end of night!
I am the son of Indrani
With the moon in my head
And the sun on my temple
In one hand of mine is the tender flute
While in the other I hold the war bugle!
I am the Bedouin, I am the Chengis,
I salute none but me!
I am thunder,
I am Brahma’s sound in the sky and on the earth,
I am the mighty roar of Israfil’s bugle,
I am the great trident of Pinakpani,
I am the staff of the king of truth,
I am the Chakra and the great Shanka,
I am the mighty primordial shout!
I am Bishyamitra’s pupil, Durbasha the furious,
I am the fury of the wild fire,
I burn to ashes this universe!
I am the gay laughter of the generous heart,
I am the enemy of creation, the mighty terror!
I am the eclipse of the twelve suns,
I herald the final destruction!
Sometimes I am quiet and serene,
I am in a frenzy at other times,
I am the new youth of dawn,
I crush under my feet the vain glory of the Almighty!

I am the fury of typhoon,
I am the tumultuous roar of the ocean,
I am ever effluent and bright,
I trippingly flow like the gaily warbling brook.
I am the maiden’s dark glassy hair,
I am the spark of fire in her blazing eyes.
I am the tender love that lies
In the sixteen year old’s heart,
I am the happy beyond measure!
I am the pining soul of the lovesick,
I am the bitter tears in the widow’s heart,
i am the piteous sighs of the unlucky!
I am the pain and sorrow of all homeless sufferers,
I am the anguish of the insulted heart,
I am the burning pain and the madness of the jilted lover!

I am the unutterable grief,
I am the trembling first touch of the virgin,
I am the throbbing tenderness of her first stolen kiss.
I am the fleeting glace of the veiled beloved,
I am her constant surreptitious gaze.
I am the gay gripping young girl’s love,
I am the jingling music of her bangles!
I am the eternal-child, the adolescent of all times,
I am the shy village maiden frightened by her own budding youth.
I am the soothing breeze of the south,
I am the pensive gale of the east.
I am the deep solemn song sung by the wondering bard,
I am the soft music played on his lyre!
I am the harsh unquenched mid-day thirst,
I am the fierce blazing sun,
I am the softly trilling desert spring,
I am the cool shadowy greenery!
Maddened with an intense joy I rush onward,
I am insane! I am insane!
Suddenly I have come to know myself,
All the false barriers have crumbled today!
I am the rising, I am the fall,
I am consciousness in the unconscious soul,
I am the flag of triumph at the gate of the world,
I am the glorious sign of man’s victory,
Clapping my hands in exultation I rush like the hurricane,
Traversing the earth and the sky.
The mighty Borrak is the horse I ride.
It neighs impatiently, drunk with delight!
I am the burning volcano in the bosom of the earth,
I am the wild fire of the woods,
I am Hell’s mad terrific sea of wrath!
I ride on the wings of the lightning with joy and profound,
I scatter misery and fear all around,
I bring earth-quakes on this world!

I am Orpheus’s flute,
I bring sleep to the fevered world,
I make the heaving hells temple in fear and die.
I carry the message of revolt to the earth and the sky!
I am the mighty flood,
Sometimes I make the earth rich and fertile,
At another times I cause colossal damage.
I snatch from Bishnu’s bosom the two girls!
I am injustice, I am the shooting star,
I am Saturn, I am the fire of the comet,
I am the poisonous asp!
I am Chandi the headless, I am ruinous Warlord,
Sitting in the burning pit of Hell
I smile as the innocent flower!
I am the cruel axe of Parsurama,
I shall kill warriors
And bring peace and harmony in the universe!
I am the plough on the shoulders of Balarama,
I shall uproot this miserable earth effortlessly and with ease,
And create a new universe of joy and peace.
Weary of struggles, I, the great rebel,
Shall rest in quiet only when I find
The sky and the air free of the piteous groans of the oppressed.
Only when the battle fields are cleared of jingling bloody sabres
Shall I, weary of struggles, rest in quiet,
I the great rebel.

I am the rebel eternal,
I raise my head beyond this world,
High, ever erect and alone!

Living Out Their Lives in the Jungle

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 110th birthday.

Nagarjun
Indian
1911 – 1998

 

Bhado, glistening
The night of the new moon

What is this sapphire gleam
Scattering its blessings in the jungle
How wondrous is this gift
That, too, in the auspicious rainy season
It seems that they, alone, will triumph
In the arena where power flaunts itself
There are thousands, hundreds of thousands
Who can count them, innumerable are they
Together they glow and shine
Who can say – they burn and perish
Living out their lives in the jungle

These fireflies are lit from within
One moment shining, the next extinguished
How wondrous is this gift
That, too, in the auspicious rainy season
Their triumph is certain
In the arena of the final pilgrimage
Do not call them ‘wretched’
Listen, these are creatures of light
Living out their lives in the jungle

Bhado, glistening
The light of the new moon

On the Nature of Love

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 160th birthday.

Rabindranath Tagore
Indian
1861 – 1941

 

The night is black and the forest has no end;
a million people thread it in a million ways.
We have trysts to keep in the darkness, but where
or with whom – of that we are unaware.
But we have this faith – that a lifetime’s bliss
will appear any minute, with a smile upon its lips.
Scents, touches, sounds, snatches of songs
brush us, pass us, give us delightful shocks.
Then peradventure there’s a flash of lightning:
whomever I see that instant I fall in love with.
I call that person and cry: `This life is blest!
for your sake such miles have I traversed!’
All those others who came close and moved off
in the darkness – I don’t know if they exist or not.

The Lover

In honor of Ambedkar Jayanti, we present this work by one of contemporary India’s most vibrant women poets.

Arundhathi Subramaniam
Indian
b. 1973

 

The woman doesn’t call herself
a saint,

just a lover
of a saint

who’s been dead four hundred years.

She doesn’t see people
on weekdays

but her master tells her
we’re safe,

so she calls us in to where she sits
her body blazing
in its nakedness

its tummyfold and breastsag
and wild spiraling nipple
reminding us that life
is circles —
crazy, looping, involuting, dazzling
circles.

She tells us
the world calls her a whore.

She told her master about it too
but he only said,

‘The rest of the world serves
many masters —
family, money, lovers, bosses,
children, power, money, money
in endless carousels —

the crazy autopilot
of samsara.

But you, love, think only of me.
Who’s the whore here?’

Outside the window
the sun is a red silk lampshade

over a great soiled bedspread
ricocheting in the wind.

A Break in the Rhythm of Life

We present this work in honor of Buddha Purmina.

Bhaskar Roy Barman
Indian
b. 1950

 

When the world itself looked exhausted,
revolving round the sun;
when a bumble-bee sounded tired
of humming round a ternate leaf;
when a few fishermen were venting their rage on their net
– they looked fed up of mending their net off and on –
and when the fish were leaping and playing in the river,
sure as they were the net won t be thrown over them,
yonder on a field a serpent was shedding its slough,
indifferent to a group of women wending their way
across the field
and to a pedlar crying his wares along the road
that ran parallel to the field
At this moment, as usual, a boat rowed in
disgorged two men onto the bank.
A music strummed on a violin floated in the air for a while,
then rose up and disappeared into the sky.
Presently the men returned empty-handed to the boat
and winked at the boatmen to row the boat away.
Suddenly the sky got covered over with pitch-dark clouds.
The fishermen looked up and thought
there would be festivities of lightning
and the river would dance to the rumblings .
They prayed for the safety of the men on the boat.
In response to their prayer the clouds went away across the sky.
The fishermen resumed mending their net;
the world continued revolving round the sun;
the bumble-bee went on round the ternate leaf
and the fish were still leaping and playing in the river .
But the serpent had shed its slough and slid into its hole.

Night of the Scorpion

In honor of the First Day of Passover, we present this work by one of India’s greatest Jewish poets.

Nissim Ezekiel
Indian
1924 – 2004

remember the night my mother

was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours
of steady rain had driven him
to crawl beneath a sack of rice.

Parting with his poison – flash
of diabolic tail in the dark room –
he risked the rain again.

The peasants came like swarms of flies
and buzzed the name of God a hundred times
to paralyse the Evil One.

With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the mud-baked walls
they searched for him: he was not found.
They clicked their tongues.
With every movement that the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother’s blood, they said.

May he sit still, they said
May the sins of your previous birth
be burned away tonight, they said.
May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
May the sum of all evil
balanced in this unreal world

against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain.
May the poison purify your flesh

of desire, and your spirit of ambition,
they said, and they sat around
on the floor with my mother in the centre,
the peace of understanding on each face.
More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours,
more insects, and the endless rain.
My mother twisted through and through,
groaning on a mat.
My father, sceptic, rationalist,
trying every curse and blessing,
powder, mixture, herb and hybrid.
He even poured a little paraffin
upon the bitten toe and put a match to it.
I watched the flame feeding on my mother.
I watched the holy man perform his rites to tame the poison with an incantation.
After twenty hours
it lost its sting.

My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
And spared my children.