Wending howeward, as the first yellow rays
Rinsed the ears of the standing corn
He saw them.
A low, black, floating cloud
Hovering over the field.
A small patch of a black shroud,
Trailing, gust-driven, slow like the serpent’s
Then the chunk of darkness settled,
Black hawk, crook-beaked, wrenching claws.
‘Locusts’ he said.
He had seen them.
The village headman’s long shadow
On the tenant farmer’s ripe corn, unripe daughter
The scribe’s gnarled hands knit a black shadow
Writing long- in the ‘Number Book’,
Loans of the dead visit upon the unborn.
The devil machine unsettling the city
Ginning the cotton grown in the black-soil of his
Locusts – he had seen them.
He could see them.
In the frenzied, opium gleam of his eyes
The blood of fool – hardy sepoys,
The Great Queen’s Durbar,
Cracked land stricken by plagues and history
And the unredeemed hunger of his village.
Locusts had little to forebode,
He thought as he walked home.
(Note: Shishunal Shareef Saheb, a mystic poet who lived between 1819 and 1889 at Shishunal near Hubli saw locusts and made accurate predictions of the historical events which followed — The Sepoy’s Mutiny, the end of the company Raj etc. The first cotton ginning factory at Hubli was set up in the nineteenth century, on which he wrote a poem.)
“Why do you stare at me so, brothers
Eying with lust filled eyes these juicy limbs?
At my ripe breasts as though I were a saucy wench
At these taut thighs and the place where it oozes piss”
Remember I am an adulterous woman.
I double timed my worldly husband
Who saw me with your eyes
And gave myself to the other one
My ethereal Lord, sweet as jasmine
I hugged Him so hard, the bones were crushed
And thrust till the arrow went in,
Only the plumed – tuft at the back tip showed
I wait for him love crazed, limbs like a mountain on fire
And we make love on the grass-bed,
Thickly canopied, in the woods of my Being.
He the three-eyed one sees me from everywhere
Clothes cannot hide me from Him.
There in my husband’s palace I learnt
That men are limb blinded, grope only with hands
Denuding eyes, ravishing fingers.
Now I walk naked in the crowded shandy of the world,
I know clothes wouldn’t make a difference
You would always see what only you could.
Leave me alone brothers.
I have been ravished, taken
By my Man who husbands the world.
The bastards, they nailed him on the cross.
My eyes were glued as the nails went home
Into His petal soft tender palms,
delicate feet which had walked on the waters.
Such a frail body hardly a man’s.
The women wailed but I only wanted
to hold him and soothe those tired bleeding limbs.
Now that he is dead, men are at it again jingle silver
coins when I walk past,
Lusty buyers, weighing the worth and weight of my limbs,
If I say no, the hands are not there
To stop them from casting stones.
I also know how hunger gnaws
And lust follows me every where
Burning holes into my ageing body.
I cannot do it now, never again.
When he stopped them from stoning me
I was stunned, lashed awake
By the horror of knowing I was more than
Mere breasts and thighs.
He unmade me,
Kindling a longing I never knew was there.
I am some times angry with the dead one now
That he changed me
And left the world unchanged.
Dukka: The Sorrow That Sorrow is
There beneath the Bodhi tree,
like a snow-white swan his mind glided out
of the dark riddled tangle of the murky waters
And he saw it all
Saw sorrow, the sorrow that sorrow is,
The root and the branch,
How Desire, like a thick smell pursues
And wracks everyone in sorrow.
He rose and told the Bhikkus how
Everything is on fire, wrapped in Desire.
Annihilate Desire, put an end to sorrow he said.
They listened and nodded their heads.
But marauding chariots run
On wheels well-oiled by Desire;
The drunken soldier tastes the bud
of a girl child, hastily wipes off the blood
with her tattered loin cloth and departs
For a new conquest;
The sheen of the diamond studded crown
Is paled by the demented desire
lusting in the eyes of the emperor.
As scholar poets sing his praise
He is deaf, dream driven
Virgin cities await, new empires.
In the shandy there, a tribal squats.
In a gibberish tongue he bargains
He won’t take anything less than a golden coin
for his wife who squats nearby
a three-month-old nibbling, at her breast
and a two-year-old playing in the mud.
At dusk strange caravans of skeletons
Stop, camping near the city.
Bereft of land and woods
and clutching their strange ancestral gods
They have come, nameless makers of
new glorious cities.
The empire has a hungry maw
It devours- men, women and lands
And churns all into Desire.
The sorrow that sorrow is
That Desire is.
This land, the island of Jamboo
Sky-shouldering abode of snow up north,
goat – path dotted mighty hills.
And a not so tranquil sea at the tapering south.
A squirrel helped Rama to build a bridge
To Sita; to return home
To the fire ordeal and to a rent mother earth
There were no highways.
The fabled East, un deflowered.
Marauding armies trampled past
Arab horses pissed on palm-leaf scripts
The pass became a highway.
The Pirates’ ship dipped its prow
round the Cape of Good Hope.
Tall white men; rigging calloused hands
Thrusting swords between their legs.
Fisher women who could only speak a dialect
Discovered a new word – Pharangi –
A festering sore, itchy, there where
Sea parched sailors – native and white
Anchor their things during the night.
The sea became a high way.
Now there are only highways
All India National permit lorries
groaning with quarried granite,
Cheap arrack filled polythene sachets.
Sawn off tusks of ivory
To be rehabilitated tribals
run on them.
‘Dhabas’ have latest stereo screening all night
‘I love my India’.
Road-dust parched driver’s carouse.
The hasty hunks find the half-clad hungry hill
The hill women also speak only a dialect
They have discovered a new pharangi word
There are only highways now, no forests.
Just a handful of Mustard
The cold gust knifed through the latticed window;
He slept so soundly, my little one
Had tugged so sharply at the breast,
wet toothless mouth, milk drops
drooling at the curled lips.
Flesh of my flesh, warming the flesh.
Held him close to the gust-tingled breast and slept.
The maid woke me; time to milk the cows
The little one did not stir, too fast in sleep
My mother’s heart misgave.
The small dough of flesh was inert, dead.
Crazed with sorrow I ran to where
The Buddha sat under the Banyan tree
Lotus posture, inscrutable smile.
I tore my hair and wept.
Would the great one give back the breath
The gust had stolen from my little one?
‘Yes’ he smiled “only bring me
Of handful of mustard, sister
From the house where death has never knocked”
I ran like one demented
And paused on the threshold of the corner house;
I knew what the Great One meant
And pitied him
He does not know women folk
Live with all smells – even of death;
We die too often, routine.
But wise parables of Death
Can’t fill an absence.
Nor tell me why a small mound of earth
Looks mockingly like my eight-month belly
Parables better be told to men.
As I wet my husband’s hairy chest
With memories of a muted lullaby
His calloused hands caress me;
His mouth tugs and sucks
At my milk heavy painful breasts
Like the Great One,
Death is only a parable to him.