• Three Poems

    K. Satchidanandan

    AFTER THE WAR

    At the end of the war
    When the counting of dead bodies
    began, the Pandavas and the Kauravas
    beat their brows together in horror.

    ‘Why did we fight at all?’ asked
    the Pandavas.  ‘How did
    they die?’ asked the Kauravas.
    ‘Whose cruel deed was this?’
    enquired the Pandavas. ‘Who
    was behind it?’ enquired
    the Kauravas.  ‘Aren’t we kin?’
    Pandavas wondered.  ‘Aren’t we
    neighbours?’ wondered the Kauravas.
    ‘Our rivers are the same,’ said
    the Pandavas.  ‘Our languages
    are the same,’ said the Kauravas.
    ‘Our house was on the
    other bank of the river,’
    remembered the Pandavas.
    ‘Ours too,’ echoed the Kauravas.
    ‘The same earth, the same water,
    the same sky.  The same food,’
    Pandavas sang in a chorus.
    ‘The same tree, the same blood,
    the same pain, the same dream,’
    Kauravas took up the refrain.

    Then they polished their guns
    and began shooting one another.

    (Written soon after the Kargil War
    between India and Pakistan)

     

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    THE MEMORY OF HIROSHIMA

    (Written on Hiroshima Day, 1991. Dedicated to the people of Peringom, Kerala, fighting against the proposed nuclear reactor in their village.)

     

    We, grass no storm can break,
    survivors of rabbits, earthquakes and revolutions,
    silent witnesses to murderous crimes, say:
    No more.

     

    1

    We remember Hiroshima:
    Death descended like the spring in the valley
    with the light of a million suns.
    Then charcoal, ashes,
    an orchard of skulls.
    Burnt  kimonos dripping
    with breastmilk and blood,
    the tiny shoes of children
    fallen dead on the steps while
    rushing back to their homes’ cool shelter,
    darling dolls that had leapt down scared
    from the schoolbags,
    now lying charred on the floor,
    fingers that had woven clothes and bread
    now stuck to the stilled machines,
    the caps of dead songs,
    the skirts of dead dances,
    liquefied loves,
    cherry blossoms dissolved
    in the white heat of the scorching summer,
    molten eyes,
    molten time still on molten clock,
    molten language stuck to
    molten slates.

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    2

    We grass,
    who turn the earth into
    a revolving emerald in space,
    guard from pain
    the feet of the playing children
    and the falling flowers,
    and tattoo the skulls of the dying
    with colourful dreams, say:
    No more.

    We remember Chernobyl:
    Death had come not blood-soaked
    like the knife-thrower,
    nor in tight vests with a red kerchief
    like the bullfighter.
    Hiroshima’s sun had risen
    like the primal explosion
    that had given birth to our earth.
    He came amidst the revelries
    of that midsummer night in April
    to choke the nightingales’ throats,
    to still the dancing Gypsy feet.
    Invisible serpents of slithering heat,
    venomous light piercing the cawing of crows
    and the mewing of cats,
    children’s life-breath vanishing into
    the balloons with the air that blows them up,
    mothers carrying their burning children
    running all thirst along
    streets that lead nowhere,
    still-borns delivered on blanched beds
    like vain prayers,
    milk-bottles brimming with pale death,
    tomato-fields that suck human blood,
    wheat-fields wielding their golden sword,
    stunted trees from which dead birds fall,
    bitter honey, black pollen, black snow,
    killing shower, killing air,
    killing moonlight.

     

    3

    We, grass,
    the green flags of dreams
    stained by the atomic rain,
    announcing life’s tenderness
    even in the deserts of the battlefield,
    did not grow just to be crushed under
    the hooves of eternal night.
    Lend your ears to our green message:
    Wake up, mothers nursing lullabies
    and cucumbers in this soil,
    with the drums of the minstrels announcing
    the dawn for witness,
    save  from the atomic eclipse
    the deathless moon of your selfless love
    with its healing roots,
    Rise up, brave peasants, rearing
    future’s gold in paddy-fields
    and grandchildren’s dreams,
    with the tears of ancestors
    dried up on the ritual masks for witness,
    retrieve from the poisoned earth
    the untiring sun of your courageous action
    that smells of arecanut flowers
    until the rhythms of abundant life
    echo in the drums of the untouchables
    and the hearts of the dispossessed,
    until this earth flowers once again
    in the melodious rains from the
    shepherd’s flute and the monsoon clouds.

     

     

     

     

     

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    THE LAST DREAM

    I dream of a day when
    jasmine creepers will
    wind round tanks,
    rifles will support
    cucumber vines and
    godowns of gunpowder
    will fill with the fragrance
    of champa flowers
    Then pupils will rain,
    hands grow feathers,
    white clouds turn into angels
    and borders disappear
    Once again… I… will…
    kiss… your… eyelids…
    Oh…!

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    Translated from Malayalam by the poetK. Satchidanandan is perhaps the most widely translated and anthologized of contemporary Indian poets.  His books in English translation are While I Write: New and Selected Poems (2011), Misplaced Objects and Other Poems (2014) and The Missing Rib (2016).  In 2015 he resigned all his positions in the Akademi to protest rising intolerance and attacks on artists and writers; read his letter to the Akademi here.  You can also read his essays on the ICF site here, and his poems and translations in Guftugu here.

    These poems are the sixth in ICF's unfolding Citizens against War series of literature and art, initiated in the spirit of listening: to our poets, artists, fellow citizens, against war and warmongering.

    Text © K. Satchidandan.  Images from top: © Fu Baoshi / Pinterest ; Yamamoto Baiitsu / Plathey ; Katsushika Hokusai / Althouse ; © Fu Baoshi / WikiArt.

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