The two rivers meet in the town
where the mountain spreads legs
for the valley that is prone on her back
like a slumberous woman.
Gomti flows into Sarayu
ceases to exist after the convergence.
In a statement of finality the river ends
as individual lives terminate.
The old temple priest would not let me step
into Gomti, pick a pebble from a tumble
of moss. My ashes will be strewn here,
he said pointing to the stony riverbed.
His eyes rested on Sarayu’s mercurial water
that flowed in silver twists between rocks.
He touched my head to bless and said:
Sarayu is for the living, for you.
After he leaves for the airport
the dust from his shoes settles on the floor
The smell of soap lingers in the room
as I fold the warmth of his body in the blanket
It goes back to the practice from my childhood
when I wandered in the overgrown backyards of people
to collect the thumbai flowers, pinches of moon in my palm
that I weaved into a garland, the pale stem of a flower
pressed into the heart of another, into the soft pouches
of nectar for the bees that helicoptered to my face
Brush of wings a whisper so faint like the slight
movement of his chest as he slept
I pay attention to the small things in him that the others miss
so like the thumbai flower that no one cared to gather.
There was a time we shared our world with animals
swam with horses in the seas, manes covering
our bodies when we pulled along the marina for coitus
muscles tensed, eyes sky blue the colour of our seeds.
I birthed the universe: body the dawn, eyes the sun,
mouth the fire I stoke in my kitchen, spit of grease
thick on foil – offerings made to the gods. They licked
their lips satiated. I am death, hence two faced life.
Half a seed stirring with desire, fathered the other half –
Prajapati, the God, man as in male, my mirror, lover
coiled around me. I shuddered. There was no speech. No
words. Those were times a question became an answer.
Who? Prajapati did not know, so asked. That is him. Who.
He is dumb from holding fire in his mouth
and could as well be dead, despite the fire:
not because he has no words,
he will have no kingdom if there is no fire.
The priest knows it, mumbles incantation to Agni,
offers ghee to the potent heat searing the tongue.
What feeds the fire, is it words or ghee,
or the word ghee uttered by the priest?
Fire rolls out of the sealed mouth,
as man to woman, word to desire is wedded.
The word births history, colonizes earth,
marks boundaries and draws maps.
Story softens brutality, so does poetry,
holds god’s attention to syllables and declensions
while the fire scorches the grass. Stubbles of flames
fanned by wind unfurls, licks acres of river plains.
Pathways open as forests are razed and animals burnt –
a blighted day when a word can rule the God of Fire.
Source: Satapatha Brahmana (700 BCE)
The story of Mathava in Satapatha Brahmana narrates the eastward movement of the Aryan tribe from the banks of River Sarasvati to regions near River Sadanira, present day Ghagara. It is a document of conquest and expansion mythologised in a story.
The year of First World War grandfather bought a house
draining his savings, with no inkling if the property was war worthy.
There were rehearsals of black outs – blankets draped on windows,
lights turned off, vegetable oil lamps flickered with frayed hopes.
The night Emden rained projectiles, for half hour Madras held its breath –
breeze carried smell of kerosene from Burma ships into my mother’s sleep.
Grandfather packed his family into a train bound to Mayavaram,
thence to his village. No he would not join them, who will guard the house?
In the village grandmother pulled out the aerial, tuned the radio everyday.
A month later the static crackled with noise, filled the room with glad tidings.
She rejoiced, snapping her knuckles in celebratory anger –
finally that son of a bitch ship has sunk in some distant shore.
They folded his legs
curved the spine
gently slid him in
air assumed his shape
His head lolled
pressing into collar bones
in a tight embrace
by the arc of urn
The dog arched its back
howled into darkness
smelling death it sniffed
him bent like foetus.
Poem A Day
This poem is written in response to visit to a museum in Puhar where burial urns were unearthed. During the Sangam period ( 3 BCE – 4 CE) there were references in literature to burial urns used to intern the dead. They were called the mudhumakkal thazhi, urn for old people.
The northern wind from the Hindu Kush
set the talisman tied to the doors jangle,
prayers of souls drowned the lake, greened
the meadow. Dead skin from wintry nights
in the cold desert fell away like vermins in
the warm embrace of smoked rhubarb
that filled the air of the hill country,
blue with traces of silver and lapis lazuli.
Fields stained red with madder roots
spread like shawl of heavens at his feet, but
he sought echoes of different nights,
visions of lands that entombed lost legacies.