Meeting the Prophetess

We present this work in honor of Dr. Ambdekar Jayanti.

04-14 Meena
Meena Kandasami
Indian
b. 1984

 

Leave your books behind.

Since memory,
Like knowledge, is a traitor,
Erase every hoarding of your horrible past.

At last, when you enter her world
Of fraying edges and falling angels
Don’t barter words where touch will do and be the truth.
For once allow her silence to sear, strip your life-layers
Because she who knows the truth will not know the tale.

Endless Ages

We present this work in honor of Buddha Purmina.

04-08 Bodidharma
Bodidharma
Indian
c. 470 – c. 520

 

Through endless ages, the mind has never changed
It has not lived or died, come or gone, gained or lost.
It isn’t pure or tainted, good or bad, past or future.
true or false, male or female. It isn’t reserved for
monks or lay people, elders to youths, masters or
idiots, the enlightened or unenlightened.
It isn’t bound by cause and effect and doesn’t
struggle for liberation. Like space, it has no form.
You can’t own it and you can’t lose it. Mountains.
rivers or walls can’t impede it. But this mind is
ineffable and difficult to experience. It is not the
mind of the senses. So many are looking for this
mind, yet it already animates their bodies.
It is theirs, yet they don’t realize it.

To a Butterfly

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 115th birthday.

03-26 Varma
Mahadevi Varma
Indian
1907 – 1987

The rain is about to fall,
Come through my window, butterfly.

Outside, when they become wet,
Those charming colors will melt away,
The flower will fall to the ground,
It won’t be able to save you, small butterfly,
Come through my window, butterfly!

A little one will manage to catch you,
He will place you in a small box and take you away,
After, he’ll paste you into a book
You’ll die, then, butterfly,
Hide inside my window, butterfly.

Without a Place

We present this work in honor of Bihar Divas.

03-22 Anamika
Anamika
Indian
b. 1961

 

This is how the shloka goes —
women, nails and hair
once they’ve fallen
just can’t be put back in place
said our Sanskrit teacher.

Frozen in place out of fear
we girls held on tight to our seats.
Place, what is this ‘place’?
We were shown our place
in the first grade.
We remembered our elementary school lessons
Ram, go to school, son,
Radha, go and cook pakora!
Ram, sip sugar syrup,
Radha, bring your broom!
Ram, bedtime, school tomorrow
Radha, go and make the bed for brother.
Aha! This is your new house
Look Ram! Here’s your room
“And mine?”
Oh, little loony!
Girls are wind, the sun and the good earth
They have no homes
“Those who don’t have a home,
where do they belong?”

Which is the place from where we fall
become clipped nails, fallen hair trapped in combs,
fit only to be swept away
Houses left behind, paths left behind
people were left behind
questions chasing us, too left behind
Leaving behind tradition,
it seems to me I’m as out of context
as a short line
from a great classic
scribbled on a BA examination paper

But I don’t want
somebody to sit down and
analyse me
to pigeonhole me
At long last, beyond all contexts
with real difficulty
I’ve gotten here

Let me be hummed
like an abhang,
unfinished.

 

Translation by Arlene Zide

65th Poem from Daasarathii Satakam

We present this work in honor of Uzhavar Tirunal.

01-16 Ramadasu
Bhadrachala Ramadasu
Indian
1620 – 1680

Wonder was it when a rock touched by your foot became a youthful woman,
Wonder was it when a multitude of boulders floated on water in steadiness,
But, what wonder it is when a man by constant thinking of you obtains salvation? on
This earth, pleasant one to the daughter of earth, Daasarathii, ocean of kindness!

from The Virsimhdevcarit

We present this work in honor of Pongal.

01-14 Keshavdas
Keshavdas
Indian
1555 – 1617

 

When Generosity and Greed set out to see Jahangirpur
They saw a huge array of forts, towns and villages –
How could I possibly recount all their names?
They saw lakes and rivers that made them glad.
Then they approached the ‘Bir lake.’ Seeing the magnificent Bir lake
They sought the appropriate terms for describing it.
It gives such pleasure on earth, this body of water!
It is marvelous, clear, vast, and profound in its depths.
It is home to blossoming flowers, bright like a star-lit sky.
It is a place of great coolness, where the heat of summer is forbidden entry:
Abode of scents, a place of beauty, effacer of the world’s cares
Like the goddess Candika in its dark hue.
The tall waves are a cluster of clouds releasing their spray in the wind
At sunset the water takes on a red quality,
Waves shimmering like lightning, removing the sorrow of men’s hearts.
Night and day peacocks dance in all directions to the spray of the lake
The lotuses bloom, their white luster like moonlight…

 

Translation by Allison Busch

Extinguished Smoldering

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 465th birthday.

12-17 Khan-I-Khana
Abdul Rahim Kahn-I-Khana
Indian
1556 – 1627

 

What good is this petty love of exchanging little gifts?
Wager your life on love, and see if you lose or win.

When the fish is cut up, it’s washed in water; eat it and you thirst for water.
How great is the fish’s love for its mate, that even when dead it yearns for water.

Some burn and then go out, and some never burn at all.
But those who burn with love go out and then flare again.

A sugarcane is full of juice all over.
Except where there’s a knot, and that’s how love is.

The path of love is arduous, not everyone makes it to the end.
You mount a horse made of wax and ride through a blazing fire.

A Woman to Her Lover

11-12 Kshevtrayya
Kshetrayya
Indian
1600 – 1680

“Your body is my body,”
you used to say,
and it has come true,
Muvva Gopala.

Though I was with you
all these days,
I wasn’t sure.

Some woman has scratched
nail marks on your chest,
but I’m the one who feels the hurt.

You go sleepless all night,
but it’s my eyes
that turn red.
“Your body is my body,” you used to say

Ever since you fell for that woman,
it’s my mind
that’s in distress.

When I look at those charming love bites
she has left on your lips,
it’s my lip that shakes.
“Your body is my body,” you used to say

Maybe you made love
to another woman,
for, O lord who rules me,
my desire is sated.

Forgive me, Gopala,
but when you come back here,
I’m the one who feels small
with shame.
“Your body is my body,” you used to say

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