Orsang

Orsang the wild river of the Bhils
flows in the corn that is sunned on roof tops,

on the dry river bed watermelons
like ripe buttocks get warmed,

worms burrow into the flesh;
the hollow crimson cavity hold

tales of the river, stories of the people
who walk so gently that they appear to glide.

In the empty villages women and children
gaze at the winding road from their homesteads

waiting for lovers, husbands, fathers
to celebrate the festival of spring and colour

when jamun trees rain blossoms
petals of mahua pink like dawn toss in the breeze.


This is in response to a prompt from Poetic Asides, to write a spring poem.

Spring season brings to my mind memories of my interactions with the Ratwa Bhils, an adivasi community of people living in the Chottaudepur region of Vadodara district in Gujarat. I had the privilege of working with the Ratwas, visiting several villages in this region in connection with a health project. Ratwas are a graceful community of people, they are warm, friendly and very gentle.  

When the rivers, lakes and ponds run dry, when crops cannot be grown in the tracts of lands around the villages, men go to cities like Baroda, Baruch and Surat in search of livelihood. They take contract work in construction sites and return home for Holi , the festival of the spring season. Through the hot months of April and May they ready  their land for the next agriculture cycle that commences soon after the monsoon in the month of June.  

Spring for the Ratwas is truly the season of happiness and family reunion. Music, dance and revelry resonate all through the night of Holi.

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Cosmic Slumber

The fish swam
till it grew too big
for the pot,
for the pond,
lake, river, sea.
Sky an inverted blue bowl
where water filled.
Docked at the meru
whose peak bounced
the fish waited for time to blur
and coil like a serpent
a dormant egg.
Days nights merged
darkness sunshine one
years of rain
years when wind blew.
Waking up after yogic nidra
microbes wriggled in the heat of desire
that emanated from the egg,
scales of the serpent breathed.

This poem is in response to the prompt at the Big Tent Poetry. I wordled the poems that I have been writing recently, based on my readings of the Puranas. These are the words that have kept repeating –  sea, ocean, sun, egg, coils, serpent, fish, golden, black, darkness, hills,time. Here in this poem I have used some of these; but considering that I draw again from the Puranas, the words might have repeated even otherwise:)

The Veda is called the Shruti , that which is heard. Veda is apaurusheya, that which has no author. In fact each one of us is its author. It belongs to everyone, springs from the deep fears and quest of each one of us, from the one who makes tools, to the herder of cattle to the priest. When I chant the Veda I become its author.

Written 2000 years after the Vedas (dated 1500 BCE),  the Puranas are called Smritis. Smriti means ‘to remember’, these bodies of texts are from the collective memories of people as they concretised abstractions that the Vedic people worked through. Hence while the Vedic hymns on creation is abstract, the Puranic creation myth acquires a narrative that has protagonists like the fish and the Manu who save the world after the flood. While the Rig Veda wonders if there is a before to the beginning and beyond to the end, the Puranas delineate through cycles of creation what happens beyond the end, or just before the beginning.

‘Yogic nidra’ can be loosely translated as ‘cosmic slumber’.

Sisters That Bet

The sisters moved away from the valley –
Kadru didn’t want anything of the forests and hills
marshes and darkness that left her depressed;
they moved to a low cliff close to the sea,
she sunned on the rocks waiting for her thousand eggs to hatch.

Vinata collected stones and twigs, built a nest
with wind-swept feathers, dry leaves,
cradled her golden egg in cosyness of care,
bordered the nest with a  levee of  sharp stones.
Waited warily for the serpents her sister would birth.

Kadru was fatigued cracking the eggs,
reaching for her thousand serpent babies,
throwing away the shells that built like a small hill of foam.
The children looked through slits of glass eyes
reached for the warm crevices of rocks. 

Not one given to parenting she fed her babies
for  a day or two rats and fledglings, 
then she went to her  favourite rock
lay there looking at the clouds above the sea
that changed shapes ever so often.

Kadru  was disgruntled  with her brood – she
had asked Kashyapa for a thousand sons, but  Vinata
as always outdid her, asked for one son to surpass Kadru’s thousand.
Jealousy stirred like a python when Kadru saw Vinata’s  golden egg
as it lay on the rock to collect sunshine for five hundred years .

Vinata kept busy having the egg warm at night time  
protected it from the cold sheets of wind that blew from the sea –
she built a clay oven where she placed the egg ;
through the day she watched the knotted coils of serpents
as they moved  on rocks, foraging for prey.

Kadru annoyed with the clamour her hungry sons made,
busyness of her sister clambering the rocks,
moved close to the sea, walked on the cool strand of sand .
She thought she saw an apparition in the horizon –
just a family of clouds gathering into a thunder storm?

That is Indra’s horse, Vinata  pointed to the horizon.
Kadru scowled. The seven headed white horse. Uchaishravas.  
Vinata’s lips rounded around the name
the way it did sensuously when Kashyapa told her the story:
distracted he had stooped and taken hers in his.

Not all white Kadru said, let’s fly close to the horse,
if it’s not all white I become your mistress.
Running her fingers  over the veins on the shell Vinata smiled.
Spent with lovemaking  as they awaited pink dawn
Kashyapa narrated the story that she listened lying on her stomach.

The sisters flew like wisps of breath emerging disappearing in the blue,
the fish looked at the sprites waving thin arms, propelling as they flew,
like little girls they giggled rolled over as their skirts tossed ,
like translucent marble their thighs shone in the morning light.
Uchaishravas looked at the two beautiful women skimming the ocean,

unaware of the serpents, the ugly sons of Kadru, on his tail
that crawled like lices, black shot trough silver – making him not all white.

This is the end part (beginning?) of the three poems that I have written on Garuda.

Following time order becomes problematic when there is no linear narration of events. Time in Hindu belief system moves through cycles of creation and destruction, end and beginning become synonymous : Pralaya wipes away the world only for the creation to replicate the world that has been destroyed. Srimad Baghavatham begins with someone’s end, reading the puranas presupposes moving through narratives, going back to read a story that began at the end. The motif of a snake swallowing itself with its tail in the mouth explains the non linear, cyclic  nature of story telling.

‘Sisters That Bet’ is written to the prompt from Poetic Asides where we are asked to respond to a poem that’s already been written. Yes, I am responding to Vyasa who is claimed to be the author of  Srimad Baghavatham.  But Vyasa allowed his son Suka to narrate the stories to Parikshit the grandson of Arjuna. And the stories get their existence as a body of work only in this retelling. So who is the author?

The Darbha Grass Sharp As Razor

On the flattened darbha grass
Garuda kept the pot of Soma –
ransom to free his mother from bondage.
He asked the thousand serpents
to take purificatory bath at the river.
As they slithered towards the river
Indra took away the celestial drink;
the hissing serpents mad with anger
pressed their bellies on the grass
where the pot lay, licked
the dharba sharp like razor,
and thus acquired forked tongues.

In response to The Morning Porch

Garuda

From thousands of feet up, circling the brown waves of hills
he scans pinheads of mountain peaks searching for his father;
feathers bleached a deep indigo with sunrise, the large bird
like a flying firmament  squints into the caving sockets of hills.

The air gets pressed as Garuda plunges close to the earth,
 Kashyapa in deep meditation opens his eyes as flaps of wings stir breeze,
sees his glorious son for the first time. Hardly hatched, but brimming
with purpose that even as seed Kashyapa laid in Vinata’s womb:

tapas of sixty thousand hermits mixed  like rich cream
as he took her that night and she cried with pleasure.
She waited five hundred years for the egg to hatch
as the thousand serpents hissed and tormented her.

The shell cracked and the tender down of the eaglet shone,
his mother looked with sadness. Wind on the high mountain moaned,
coils of serpents that sunned on the cold rock welcomed Garuda:
his cousins that he will kill as prey for holding his mother in bondage.

In response to The Morning Porch.
Read this to know more about Garuda.

When A Mother Remembers Her Daughter

When there is pain in every birth,
how can all poems be love poems?
The pink in the hibiscus bled
the year the killer wave visited my coast.
A daughter went to pick shells
                                      at the beach,
she never came to tell the tale
of the water that thundered in every ditch.

The sky was a tranquil peach,
a leaf lazily sailed on the tumultuous water
being there – not being there;
                 an emerald glow at the centre
where Krishna lay sucking his toe. Still
birth is painful, then what to say of death?
Do not tell me
all poems are love poems.

This poem is in response to Dave Bonta and Luisa A. Igloria at The Morning Porch. When a devastation of this magnitude, as in Japan, strikes we search for words to veil fears , and memories. I seek comfort in the story of the Lord, Srimad Bhagavatam, where at the end of a deluge, Pralayam on the leaf of Aswattha tree floats the beautiful, blue hued child  Krishna/Narayana,  sucking his toe. This heralds the next cycle of creation and birth. Even through this column of faith and belief images of suffering and death continue to haunt.

Better Off Unborn

Never make love at sunset when the gods
take a ride in the skies, look down at you copulating
skirt pulled up; the breeze from the jackfruit tree
cooled the damp sweat, mapped the moist trail
that her ascetic husband with dreadlocks left on her skin.

He watched her emerge from the blue depths of desire
muddied by wisps of sadness. The sky a mottled lilac skirt
planted the two seeds of curse under, a gash that ached while
the voyeuristic gods reclining on firm clouds   
sneered at the woman for lusting seeking her man.

(My upbringing is impeccable, never leave behind my comb
with strands of hair, never let my skirt balloon  
on the clothesline at night time, roll away my mat, sweep the floor.
Twilight is dangerous my father had warned, open the doors, let
gods see everything, that I am clean at dusk time between my legs.)

Her womb swelled like the river in monsoon time,
rashes of worry spread on the skin, pouches of dread hung under eyes,
complexion the colour of lily curdled like stale cheese – 
happens  in pregnancy the  women at the ashram told her. She
stilled her breath, eclipsed time till it hung like a discarded plastic bag.

The poison inked her blood a deep purple,
fetuses kept a hundred years in the womb turned blue;
the glaciers inched and the earth shifted under her feet,
her boys moved  pushed  tugged , stirred love and affection
while she prayed they drown in the primeval water of creation. 

As I wrote and interpreted the story of Diti and Kashyapa from Srimad Bhagavatham, I saw it shape to the prompt of Poetic Asides.

When the universe was still young during the first Manvantara, Brahma created from parts of his body Prajapatis who would people the universe with their progeny.  Daksha was created from Brahma’s thumb and he birthed fifty sons and thirteen daughters, one being Diti and the other Sati the wife of Mahadeva.  Marichi the other son of Brahma was one of the Sapta rishis. His son Kashyapa inherited from his father the right of creation. He married Daksha’s daughter Diti. They gave birth to the asuras Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashpu .

Because  there needs to be light and shade, growth and decay, creation and destruction and since the tapestry  of the Universe is spun from warps and wefts of curses and penitence, angers and munificence of gods and rishis, since the curse by rishis on Vishnu’s two celestial gatekeepers has to be annulled by their birth on earth,  Diti makes love in dusk under the prying eyes of gods and is cursed for her improper act with asuras for sons so that the accursed gatekeepers can have a passage of life through her womb. In this large pattern the mother is forgotten- the mother agonised by guilt, who yearns to hold her sons, also dreads so much destruction the birth of her sons will unleash that she carries them in her womb for hundred years, is seldom remembered.

Or, only remembered when I pin up my cascading hair at dusk time.