“Knock on the door” and other poems

Knock on the door
—Translated from Kannada by the poet

Knock on the door
from outside, from inside
Doors that open from this side are
thrust forcefully from that side.
Darkness barges in,
drags the lights out to the streets
anarchy, turmoil, an utter chaos…

when the dark spreads the inside out;
those that sleep under their cosy
concealed blankets
never see the RED of the blood
seeping under their dark sheaths
knocks, not so frequent
are now heard often from every side!

This poem came as a response to the arrest of five activists in India on the 28 Aug 2018. They were blamed by the State as ‘urban naxals’.


This Night
—Translated from Kannada by Chitra Panikkar and the poet

This night, my mind is dark;
darker than the Dark.
The flickering splinters of the candle
prick the eyes;

Puff! when I
blew it out, the stars
in the sky were put out.
The black clouds stayed,
unmoving, unshed.

Stretching arms, I
grabbed about in the space;
got a tear here, a smile
there, more sadness,
and a few desires crouching
with clipped wings, plucked feathers.

The eye is an ocean; its
roar is in my heart.
Wave after wave —
memories ride, lose track.

Tonight, the Dark sighs
like the warmth inside the earth,
has gathered my many pains —
deep in the heart, across
the inner chambers of the mind,
inside bottomless pits, on the expanses
of this horizon, I fling my arms
grope in the dark.

I’ve indeed, with care,
saved and treasured some
what have I lost from the treasuries of
the Dark?

I know not.


The Wait
—Translated from Kannada by Chitra Panikkar and the poet

Why do we wait at all,
just like that,
our eyes on the path
for him who
even after his arrival, looks
like he isn’t there at all?

As the fire in his heart
played on the tongue,
the edge of his eye darted,
sparked till
the crackle, the burst,
the leaving . . . why wait?
Why enfold the beating heart
in the palm?

“Is he not there, at your place?
Ok, fine. . . He might come . . . Anyway,
if he comes, I’ll let you know”
— the voice at the other end,
how may it know
that he may not
come at all?

Under some lorry,
under a truck —
“Oh no, no no!” Just to say this,
is it, that we wait?
Are we waiting for pain, for Death?

Fear that filled the eyes up to the brim
spills out in drops,
silently clots in the dark.

Now, any time,
this wait will be over
it will be over
it’s almost over.

Let anyone come
knock on the door
give me the news —
What do we wait for?
Why wait at all,
for him to come or
not to come?

Finally, from the open door,
as if darkness itself has barged in,
he comes, as if he hasn’t come at all.

Now, the wait
is for another day, another night!


Talking About Dharma/Adharma
—Translated from Kannada by Chitra Panikkar and the poet

deva deva mahaadeva!
hara hara mahadeva!
chants from throats filled with poison
rend these bodies;
poison in the throat
seeps into the vein,
mind’s poison
renders the body blue
spreads the blue across the sky,
turns the corals and pearls in the ocean’s
depth blue;

this is the time
the cradle of death swings with a lullaby
Child, take care —
the butcher’s knife glistens
in the pool of flesh and blood
just two inches below the navel,
sharpness slits through;
before the scream
manliness proved and achieved.

The breast, vagina,
breast-milk, the monthly
blood flow — all have
different meanings
in the politics of dharma
here, hands, feet, head, torso,
love, affection, sorrow
are soaked in blood;

a wink of sleep for the pain
a tear or two for the hated
a little compassion in the heart,
that is dharma…

The year 2002 saw the worst of communal clashes in modern Indian history, perhaps, next only to those witnessed during the days of partition. These riots were triggered by the Hindu fundamentalist/political organisations in Godhra (Gujarat) India in 2002. Most of the victims were women who were dragged out of their homes, gang-raped, then murdered. No period in history marks this kind of butchery displayed against women. Innocent people from both Muslim and Hindu communities suffered. The poem is a response to the violence.


Hide and Seek
—Translated from Kannada by Chitra Panikkar and the poet

A leaf from the tree
a kite caressing the wind
a boat on the river

with colourful fish
yellow and green flash on the shining water
moves quickly
disappearing with the flow
water doesn’t know
air doesn’t know
tree doesn’t know
fish doesn’t know
this game of hide and seek.


A River Poem
—Translated from Kannada by Chitra Panikkar and the poet

Inside the river are the sky,
the cloud, the cold sun.
cupped in my hands the river.

If I throw up my hands,
the river spills in drops, scattering
sky, cloud, and sun all over me.

If I drink the river from my hands
then within me are
the sun, the cloud, the sky.

Tell me then, who is in whom?


Mother and Me
—Translated from Kannada by Chitra Panikkar and the poet

I’m exactly like my mother

– thin body, bony fingers,
dark circles below the eyes;
within, a heavy heart
loaded with cares; a mind
beset with thoughts it can’t
quite carry; and on the surface,
a smooth smile.

I’m like my mother exactly;
her tears flow in my eyes.

Mamta Sagar is a renowned poet, playwright, translator and academic living in Bengaluru. Her published works include four collections of poems, two plays and many translations. She has been translated into many Indian and foreign languages. Mamta initiated Kaavya Sanje, the multilingual community poetry collective. Aankh Mocouni is a collection of selected poems by Mamta Sagar in Hindi translation.
Chitra Panikkar teaches at the Department of English, Bangalore University.