• FOREST

    The forest is afire and slow is the flow of my song.
    Birds living atop tall ebony trees of speech are beyond help now.

    This ancient rain forest, parrot-green, full and broad.
    Many monsoons have failed; there still is water under its floor;
    Muddy and bitter.

    These heavy thick woods wouldn't burn down that quick; flames
    Would erupt, form canopies of sparks, stop, only to start again.
    This fire wouldn't lie down, eyes shut, in any cool bed of smooth ashes.

    There is water here, enough for the forest not to dry up.
    Not enough to put out the fire.

    With a slow cadence, this song too has lost its sense,
    Cannot claim its suggestions.
    Moans of beasts, men, birds and trees sound alike

    A flock of parrots, a big flock with hundreds of parrots, is now flung in the sky.
    Hovers, scatters, twists back to itself, and falls like gray stones
    Hurled at the forest

    If only I could remember the prosody preserved on the pages
    Of the lost book of metres,
    I could write the epic of tall trees of teak and ebony numbed by the blows of the
    stones.

    The thick broad pennant on the temple of the Forest-Shiva
    Burns and flutters.
    Where are the prosodic rules for the figures
    Of speech I hear so well in the bubbling of water boiling
    In the pitcher over the Shivalinga?

    In the innermost temple, mere brilliance.

    I am inside the white cool cliffs of marble,
    I am inside multifaceted crystals,
    Behind the stiff rocks of huge cut diamonds.


    I see, all around, this forest lit up by the flames,
    I am untouched by the fire.
    I am singed.
    I burn.... more »

  • HOME

    On the roof, it has red, sun-baked tiles.
    The doors are light wood, with large copper rings,
    A young custard-apple tree in its old courtyard.
    Yes, I have a home of my own.

    I don't quite know where.
    Be it where it is.

    But, verily, it is not a fortress.
    It does not have deep trenches all around and flooded and full
    Of crocodiles.
    It has no drawbridges with ropes and pulleys and wide flooded trenches with crocodiles.

    O the one who has just pulled the ropes and lifted
    The bridge like a cannon
    Between my two thick thighs
    Is a stranger Musalmaan and I
    Am his old fortress.

    The one which is my home, though,
    Has a nice smooth pathway of red earth sprinkled with pure water.
    The lane leads to other lanes and streets and roads and on those roads
    There are many cottages and houses and halls
    And we are good neighbours all and exchange
    Cooked rice and sweets on copper plates.
    If you lower the draw bridge, now,
    the Rajputs, Marathas and Firangees are likely to attack;

    If you do not lower the draw bridge, however,
    The granaries in the fort are likely to be exhausted and our Sipahies
    Might lose their virile strength to attack.

    I have a home of my own, though,
    And it has an earthen stove.
    She, with those soft-red cheeks, seems to have cooked this evening
    The thin soup with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves.
    I come back home via the main market place, buying for her
    Some soft sweets she cares for, and as I enter our soft clay lane,
    My breath becomes the same fragrance as her clove and cardamom soup.

    Our spies have brought back the news that the kafirs would attack this Friday night

    The postman brings some letters, leaves them near the doors.
    I read them aloud.
    The young ones of the family are coming home tomorrow evening, it says.
    She hears that and there is a dimpled smile on her cheeks.

    I notice that the tree has some large fruits now on its upper branches.
    If they are ripe, children would love to eat them, I say aloud.
    I go to the front yard and reach out to a large fruit with deep green scales.
    Is it ripe yet, I press it and the grenade bursts in my palm.

    My eyes are singed with its fire but I hear a copper ring bounce on stone floor of the fort.

    Then I try and yes perhaps I see it there,
    Not too far from here, somewhere,
    Home, may be,
    Red and baked tiles on its roof
    And, yes, see
    The door with the copper ring.... more »

  • MAGAN'S INSOLENCE

    1
    It all started with stubborn Magan saying
    I want to live.
    The Gujarati literati were dumbfounded:
    You dolt, is that ever possible?
    The young clamoured on one side — what about
    our experimental periodicals ?
    On the other the elders rebuked — this
    way centuries may pass idly.
    All agreed upon this — if you chose to live
    then quit the sanctum of literature.
    Done, said Magan.
    The moment he stepped across the threshold
    a miracle occurred.
    From the niche appeared the goddess Saraswati
    and informed the king
    that where Magan went she would follow.
    And behind her — Goddess Experiment,
    Miss Realism, Mr. Rhythm — all wanting
    to leave, all adamant.
    So they decided, all right, you trouble-maker
    stay and rot in that corner.

    2
    But the fellow whose name was Magan,
    a few days later says, I want love.
    All right, you nut.

    So we took him to Apollo Street.
    In the picturesque square, an
    impressive building. In the building
    a secret chamber under lock and key.
    Took Magan to the State Bank's safe-deposit vault —
    as stated in the scriptures, brought a priest
    along to recite mantras
    — handed one key to Magan and kept the other.
    Then with a chant of glory to
    Ramchandra, Sita's Spouse, opened the locker,
    Here, take love,
    But the son of a bitch Magan says — this is not love.
    If this is not love then what is it, you
    bastard?
    All the bigwigs — prizewinners, medallists — have
    taken love for their stories, poems and plays
    from this very source.
    And you, fancy idiot, claim that this is not love.
    What is it? If this is not love what is it?
    What is the purpose of keeping it in the
    safe-deposit vault then?
    So you can use it when necessary and return.
    It never goes out of style.
    All those veteran professors use it year alter
    year and some of them have used it for
    twenty-five years — yet it stays brand new.
    But
    this prick Magan, he says —
    I want to live and I want love.

    Well then.
    Crazy Magan was locked up in the House of Letters.
    The place has western-style latrines.
    In the morning everybody used paper.
    Need a lot of paper: but that Sardarji
    from Times of India distributed huge rolls
    of paper which were left hanging there.
    Then, all the literary big-shots
    — old and new —
    put their signatures at the bottom of the
    paper after use.
    And the contents would be published in
    periodicals or read over Akashvani.
    In the case of an upset after bad food,
    an entire novel could be serialised.
    On anniversaries and festive occasions, special
    numbers and anthologies would be brought
    out from this stock only.
    This swine of a Magan did his work
    really well.
    Early every morning, he would do the job —
    and forget to sign,
    But those literature-loving editors would
    always be lurking around,
    They would grab a new poem (even if it had
    been discarded)
    and print it under the name of Magan,
    poet extraordinary,
    Only rarely would they put their own signatures . . .
    (Generally speaking, there are some ethics in
    our Gujarati literature. No one would pinch.
    another's poem).

    And within a year, Magan got the State Prize
    and five or six gold medals.
    And then there were celebrations and
    felicitations: Every paper announced that on
    a certain date and day, a felicitation programme
    for Magan, the poet emeritus, would take
    place with the following speakers and
    who the chairman would be, plus a long list
    of well-wishers
    Each one of them spoke. What oratory!
    Someone mentioned Kafka, another spoke of
    Mallarmeta and still another of Narsinhmeta.

    Someone spoke of the love between a camel
    and a cow,
    And each one had an anecdote to relate.
    Auspicious and inauspicious — all was revealed.
    Finally someone happened to remember :
    let that swine Magan say a few words.
    The chairman was all set to press the bell
    saying one, two, three, speak—
    And Magan, the dolt, the poor idiot (one
    pities him) says (the same, what else?), he
    says (and this after receiving the prize for poetry),
    says I want to live. I want to love.
    I want to write a poem.... more »

  • SEAHORSES

    A flash of boats sprouts across ocean fields.

    Sailors might take root
    But what of the seahorses?

    Hoofless seahorses graze on green pearls.

    Riding atop sea horses, the divers jump
    high walls of confinement.
    If a seahorse could only find a foothold
    on the full, hot back of the subaquatic mare of fire
    flares would jump around like newborn colts!

    But, before the drowning sailors' desperate eyes,
    brief seahorses inch along, mingled with many fish.

    It is the whale-jaw, which is full of flames and god.

    Later, much later, seahorses would come to beg for graced food from dead sailors.

    A final question, though:
    What of the hoofless seahorses
    On these stony ocean fields?... more »

  • YES

    I said:
    Yes.

    Birds broke out of eggshells, orange sun of an early morning blossomed
    atop a kevada shrub, black dark earth of tree roots rose up to turned into green leaves
    of shiny branches and from between heavy shoulders held against a beheading block
    a thick red fluid began to flow slowly.

    How I had hesitated before uttering that word.

    I knew well its fearsome beauty.

    Have you ever had a boil on your body, reaching deep through flesh to the marrow of
    bone, beginning there and not coming up to the skin, slowly surfacing, a tiny yellow-
    white spot, throbbing, pulsating, glowing like your own private sun of pain, dazzling your
    eyes with a blinding radiance, no sun glasses with you, no sleep, for long, and then,
    finally, yes, finally, it bursts;
    That bursting is Yes.

    There is no halfway yes.
    The yes of the yes-and-no is something else altogether.
    I am talking of the lone Yes.
    Eggshells broke open and yellow pus had fluttered out. I had said;
    Yes.

    They all stepped back
    All hands were withdrawn: Hands which friends had stretched out,
    Hands which foes had raised.

    It costs to say Yes
    in this land of yes-and-no.

    I have been a traveller through distant lands of learning,
    I ought to be writing accounts of my journeys across the continents of cultures.
    But something went wrong.
    I came across the usual sign board at the outskirts of a town:
    "Hope you had a pleasant stay. Come back again to the town of Nadiad."
    I went on to the other side of the signboard to see the Welcome sign from the town
    Of Paris, the city limits of which extend up to somewhere there.
    I looked and found the reverse side of the signboard blank

    I have said yes to that emptiness.

    Wouldn't it have been better to say many tiny little yeses all across?
    Utter them and the folk run upto you: "Farishta-Farishta!" "Saviour Come!" and
    They believe that all will be well. The good folk.

    "Why don't you describe the beauty of nature in your poems?": A rich farmer
    Of the yes-and-no land once asked me.
    Listen then:
    I have said yes to the river that laughs out excited by the plunging of a hippopotamus into
    its rushing waters. And to the warm summer which has set in on the hills north of the
    river, melting tons of snow on their peaks.
    No one could now stop the floods which would soon come and devastate dirty taluk
    towns clustered on her banks.

    Have you ever seen a farm house catch fire, men running away, cattle tied to their posts
    pulling at the chain, flames creeping closer, and the heat, and the light, brighter, brighter
    still, and the eyes shut tight.
    Then, before our tight shut eyes appears the mother who bears us all. She says: say Yes,
    obstinate idiot, say Yes.

    I have said Yes to that.

    In the quiet that followed
    Who, then, came out of the eggshell?
    The new-born of moon-mad chakor bird and the new born of sun-drenched hawk

    When you say the lone Yes to both the night-lotus and the lotus of mid-day,
    Then which Time should your own sky display on its vast dial?

    Yes is the last word that the speaker speaks. After that, his silence.... more »