The Flute

Kinu Milkman’s Lane.

In a two-storey house

There’s a first-storey room with iron bars

Beside the road.

Patches of sand have collapsed from salty walls

Patches of mould adorn it.

 

A picture on ’merican cloth

Of Ganesh, the wish-fulfiller

Is stuck on the door.

Besides me, another lives in the room

For the same rent

It’s a lizard.

The only difference being

It does not want for food.

 

Salary twenty-five

Junuior clerk in a merchant office.

The meals come from the Duttas’ house

For tutoring their boy.

’Go to the Sealdah station

To spend the evening

It helps me not to burn the light.

The dhush-dhush of engines,

The sound of the whistle,

The passengers’ hustle

Calling the coolies.

The clock ticks ten-thirty.

Then return home to solitary silent darkness.

 

The Dhaleshwari flows by my aunt’s village.

Her brother-in-law’s daughter,

Was supposed to marry this hapless wretch.

’Twas proved that the hour was auspicious—

I ran away at the right hour.

The girl was spared,

And so was I.

She never came to my home, but she comes to my mind every day—

Wearing a Daccai sari, vermilion on her forehead.

 

Monsoon arrives heavily.

My tram fare goes up,

Some days, I miss my pay.

In nooks and corners of the lane

Collect and rot

Mango skins, pits, jackfruit flesh,

Fish gills,

Dead kittens,

And who knows what other rubbish!

The umbrella’s much like

Fined salary,

It’s full of holes.

The office dress

Is like Gopikanta Gosain’s mind

It always stays moist.

The dark shadows of the rains

Enter the damp room

And, like a trapped animal

Faint and become inert.

Day and night it feels as if I

Am bound tightly to some half-dead world.

 

At the turn of the lane lives Kanta-babu,

Long hair carefully combed,

Large eyes,

And a dainty turn of mind.

His hobby is playing the cornet.

Sometimes, the music rises

Through the horrible air of this lane—

Sometimes in the dead of the night,

In the pale of dawn,

Sometimes at late afternoon

When light glitters among shadows.

Suddenly in an evening

The note strikes Sindhu-Baroya

Across the sky plays

The longing of an infinite time.

Right then, in a moment, I know

This lane is a great lie,

Insufferable, like the ravings of a drunk.

Suddenly, I learn in my mind

There’s no difference whatsoever

Between emperor Akbar and Haripada, junor clerk.

Along the melancholy call of the flute

The ragged and the royal umbrella

Travel together to the same heaven.

Where this song is true

In a timeless hour of dusk

There

The Dhaleshwari river flows by;

Deep shadows of the bay on its bank;

In the yard

The one who’s waiting is she

Wearing a Daccai sari, vermilion on her forehead.

 

Translated from Rabindranath Tagore’s mind-blowing original.

Ode to a Universal Phenomenon

Lower your voice and widen your eyes;

Punctuate your words with gasps and sighs;

Throw furtive glances behind your back—

If you do it well, you may have a knack.

Giggle in glee every other sentence;

You’ve shocked and you’ve thrilled your eager audience.

A dash of colour here, gory details there;

God forbid that you’d ever be unfair.

Today’s best friend may be tomorrow’s subject,

It’s a story well-told, so who would object?

I can see you can’t wait; to share you’re itching;

Let’s bring it on, then, start the day with ________.

Disenchanted

When Prince Charming

With swag disarming

Got near the enchanted castle;

 

Oh no, oh hell!

Where’s the bombshell?

The girl he saw had ‘muscle’!

 

He’d, in his mind,

Pictured his find:

A pretty if revealing frock;

 

A face to launch ships

Fair to the fingertips…

The fellow got a nasty shock.

 

She was very much awake –

Was the promise a fake?

The promise of a sleeping one?

 

And beauty? Oh dear!

A cold, creeping fear

To clutch his heart had begun.

 

Shorts and shirt,

Smeared with dirt;

Skin of coffee bean colour;

 

Not even supine;

She looked quite fine;

He felt hot under the collar.

 

Size zero? Not she.

Manner: dreadfully free

Tall of height, short-cropped hair;

 

Didn’t swoon or gasp,

But tightening her grasp

On a stick, she gave him a glare.

 

Then he got it, phew!

“Not the princess, are you?”

He asked with hope and relief;

 

What ensued then

Isn’t flattering to men

So I’ll keep the story but brief.

 

Overstate they may,

But people do say

The prince didn’t fare very well;

 

Believe it or not,

When the chase turned hot,

He was said to have fled pell-mell.

 

The Princess, we gather –

For it was her, none other –

Advised in a calm, grave manner;

 

To go on his way

As ‘twas clear as day

That he needed more saving than her.

 

But when he took offence

And as a weak defence

Cited her womanly duty;

 

She hit him where it hurt;

His tears did start

“Oh, you ain’t no sleeping beauty!

 

“Mend your ways;

Don’t waste your days.

You need a man to tell you how to live.”

 

How she answered then

Is too outrageous to pen

‘Twas very like a woman, I believe.

 

Such is the tale

Of the forbidding female

Most unbeautiful, non-charming;

 

Details, if you must:

She was free, brave and just;

Altogether really alarming.

 

So if you have a plan

To save a Hapless Woman

You know where you should not go;

 

The Disenchanted Land

Where the prince was beaten and –

Fatally punctured his ego.

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Image: pixabay

Figure in the Mist: A Translation

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Why did you have to…?

I thought I’d ask.

I’d come out of the mist

I was always there

Waiting – to ‘catch’ you

To stop you in your tracks

And ask – why that?

 

Then I step back

I let you walk on

I hide into the mist once again.

 

For I can’t let you think

All this infinite time

I stood waiting in the mist.

There are nights when I think

The one thing that can and should be said

Is that always, and, well…

There are days when – phew!

I thank god for Never

Never will be said the inane words.

 

I have asked She-who-knows

For your sleepless nights

Let him not sleep, Mother; once

May he court sleep

And get only my name

Like a blot in the landscape

That wouldn’t disappear

For all my sleeplessness, just one.

 

In the same breath

My ever-coward self

Shakes a warning head to kind eyes.

I believe in you, Mother

So don’t listen to me.

May my shadow not fall on anyone.

He didn’t ask, Mother

He didn’t ask for me.

Bless him; save him from my reach.

 

Why did you have to…?

I think I’d ask.

But then I think, no, why should I?

Why give you a chance

To ‘explain yourself’

To try to pretend, as if to undo…

Let it stay here

Let the story halt

At I love you and you killed me.

 

Image: pixabay

Chance Meeting

railway track

Chance meeting in a rail compartment,

I hadn’t thought it would be possible.

I had seen her many times

In a red sari

Red as the pomegranate;

Today, she’s wearing a black silk,

She has covered her head

Bordered her face — fair as the white ginger lily.

As if, with the black colour, she has wrapped

A deep distance all around herself,

The distance that is in the last limit of mustard fields

In the blue depths of the saal forest.

My whole heart halted;

I saw a known one in the unknown’s solemnity.

Suddenly, flinging down the newspaper

She greeted me.

The way to social norms was opened,

I started the small talk –

How are you, how’s the family

And so on.

She kept staring out of the window

As if in a gaze that has crossed the touch of intimate days.

She gave a few, very brief replies,

Sometimes none at all.

The impatience of her hands implied –

Why this talk,

So much better than this to stay silent.

I was on the other seat

With her companions.

At one time she asked me with her fingers to come close.

I thought she was rather brave;

I sat down on her same seat.

In the cover of the train’s noise

She said softly,

“Don’t mind,

Where is the time to waste time.

I have to get down at the very next station;

You will go far,

We shall never meet again.

Thus the question whose answer has paused for so long,

I want to hear from you.

Will you tell me the truth?”

I said, “I will.”

She kept her eyes on the sky as she asked,

“Our days that are past

Are they utterly past,

Is nothing left of them.”

I kept quiet for a while;

Then I said,

“All the stars of the night remain

In the depths of the day’s light.”

I wondered, did I make it up?

She said, “Never mind, now go there.”

Everyone got down at the next station;

I went on alone.

 

Translated from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore.

(Image: Pexels)

The Window

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(No, this and the previous post are not part of a series of architectural poems!)

 

I sat beside the window

Watching the world pass by,

And the world has passed me by.

 

I sat and watched

The wondrous world…

I looked far; I looked high.

 

So much I planned

To join the stream

To join yet stand apart;

 

Such glorious dreams

So many a path

Took shape and filled my heart.

 

The room within

I never would see

It’s there and me in it;

 

It will be here

But the world’s changing

Can’t afford to miss a bit.

 

Such long neglect

My humble room

Such dusty corners now;

 

Warm it may be

But it’s no beauty

I see today why and how.

 

I watched the world

I dreamed the world

I turned my face away;

 

What’s always here

Will always be

One after another day.

 

I had stepped out

I tried to hold

I tried to grasp and catch;

 

In the big busy world

In the land of dreams

For me there’s nary a patch.

 

See, all my friends

And all I loved

Have been so wise and good;

 

They tidied rooms

And packed their bags

The rules they understood.

 

When I caught a glimpse

I felt so thrilled

I thought I saw it all;

 

Not just pride

But love and trust

Can come before a fall.

 

This day, the world

Turns back at me.

Is that pity or scorn?

 

“You just don’t see

Till you bump your head

My dear, when were you born?”

 

What should I say?

Excuse? Sorry?

Should I move or step back?

 

My history seems

Milestones of loss

And even before – a lack.

 

Excuse me, world

If I retreat

To my neglected room;

 

My absence won’t

Leave any big gap

I believe I rightly presume.

 

This is my room

Let’s look at it

Let’s see it closely now;

 

The dark corners…

Whose voice is that?

Some voice I didn’t allow?

 

Poor old room,

Now here I am

Now here I sit with you;

 

The window’s closed

The world may pass

But we must start anew.

 

Not too late,

It’s not too tough

Let there be struggle or strife;

 

We’ll clean you up

We’ll bring in light

Got the rest of our life.

 

(Image: pixabay)

The Corridor

I am going to let myself

Dream the good dreams:

 

I am walking down a corridor

Lined with doors.

I pass them by

And then come to you –

The door to your room.

Many bubbles out of one;

So the dream divides…

 

Maybe you are so eager to see me

That even while I’m walking

The door opens and you come out and we see each other

And smile and grin and laugh

And I walk a little quicker.

 

Or maybe you’re inside

But again, waiting; wanting to see me

And I knock

After a fleeting pause…

When I go in

You’re right there;

Your seat by the window

Glad to see me; really glad.

And we’re laughing already;

We’d been joking in our minds even before we set eyes on each other.

And then another amazing thing happens

Unprecedented

You hold out your hand for mine.

I take it.

Technicolor embrace.

Not too deep, not too intense

For I’m in the mood to walk on clouds.

Just holding each other

And laughing at being together.

End of dream.

 

Can you believe how long the corridor was

That I had to walk before

I could allow myself to see this?

An Ode to the Little Deriders

 

You know the ones

Who’s so much the funs

The ‘anything goes’ abiders.

 

They know what’s best

To hell with the rest;

I call them Little Deriders.

 

’Cause anything good

Can become the food

For ridicule at their hands;

 

Mean is ‘in’,

Decorum’s sin;

Nobody else understands –

 

What they realise.

They see through the guise

Of the old fool – ‘decency’;

 

Filth they’ll find

In theme of any kind,

The muck they’ll always see.

 

And oh! The delight

They feel at the sight

Of all that glorious muck!

 

Of anything nice

They’ll take a slice

And out the sweetness suck.

 

You like the Bard?

Well, he’s a retard.

Have you not heard that joke?

 

Sex or shit…

(That’s usually it.)

Anyway, he’s a worthless bloke.

 

You believe in – what?

Oh god, not that?

But that’s a complete sham!

 

They’ll tell you why

You’ve got to be high

To trust that obvious scam.

 

You believe in A?

Bi or gay?

The dirty version they’ll know.

 

You admire B?

Now, let us see…

How did that loo joke go?

 

It’s transparent

The way they’re bent:

Offence the best defence;

 

They’ll show you the way

To live your day,

Or how to live life hence;

 

Strongly support

What they purport,

Or you are a pathetic fool.

 

’Cause you can’t deny

Even if you sigh

That they’re oh-no-so-cool!

 

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At the End of the Day

Bell rings at six-thirty, and leave the bed at seven

Coffee, shower, dress, eat; the daily hurry’s given.

The car dodges traffic; I look for music meanwhile

Then to “work” – good morning – and chat and question and smile.

I’ve given up the coffee, and tea with cardamom

It’s two cups from one tea-bag, and tiffin packed by Mum.

Snacks and biscuits also; also sudden deadlines

Along laughing hours are hidden potholes, landmines.

The days are growing longer; the sky may still be light

When I leave the office, already wanting a bite.

The dogs look tired, dirty; the baby on the pavement

Rests and frolics with them, in her dirty raiment.

I take the fastest way back; the city looks impatient

I dive into my laptop without losing a moment.

The dogs may turn up, hopeful, with eloquent eyes

‘We never seem to meet you,’ someone says and sighs.

I add that to the list of things I am doing wrong

And wonder whether I should play Moonlight or a song.

Coffee, dinner, surfing, brushing, combing, goodnight

Tomorrow I shall solve it, I’ll make that thing all right.

Few minutes of quietness, before inviting sleep

Let the ripples rest now, let them be still and deep.

In the sea of my every day, it’s only ’minute or two:

Then and only then I let myself think of you.

Grief

Meanwhile, a few successive deaths occurred in the family. Till then, I had never witnessed Death. When Mother had passed away, I had been very young. She had been suffering for a long time; I had not even known when she became critical. She used to sleep in the same room as us, although in a separate bed. But when she was ill, she was taken away for a few days to the Ganga on a boat: after she returned, she lived in a room on the second floor. The night she died, we had been asleep. I don’t know what was the hour – an old maidservant rushed into our room and wailed, “Oh God, what a terrible calamity for you all!” Bouthakurani1 immediately and hastily scolded her and led her away from the room: she was afraid that in the deep hour of the night, the news would strike a grave blow to our young hearts. As I woke up briefly in the faint light of the dimmed lamp, I felt a sudden fear, but I could not even understand properly what had happened. In the morning, when I got up and heard the news of Mother’s death, even then, I could not completely fathom its true meaning. I came out to the outer veranda and found her well-dressed body laid on a bed in the courtyard. But there was no sign in that body of the terribleness of Death: the image I saw of Death in the light of that morning was as serene and charming as a pleasant sleep. I could not notice clearly the divide between life and the end of life. It was only when her body was carried out of the main gate of our home and we followed it to the crematorium that all the storm of grief seemed to rise all at once and set up a lamentation in my heart that never again will Mother come in through this door of this house and take her own seat in her very own, lifelong home. The morning passed; we came back from the crematorium; when I arrived at the turn of the lane, I looked up at Father’s room on the second floor: he was still sitting in the balcony of his room, motionless in his upasana2.

 

1Bouthakurani: sister-in-law

2upasana: meditation; worship; prayer

Excerpt translated from an original text by Rabindranath Tagore.