The Sea-scare
I am awfully frightened of the sea
But the sea itself remains totally nonchalant about it all.
The mystery deep below the sea is beyond my grasp,
It keeps me guessing as to
What music sways it,
Music of death or music of life?
To the sea of course all this is no matter at all.

This is the reason why am I frightened,
Awfully frightened am I of the sea
The deep dark look of a woman
With a baby inside her womb
And the language of her weary eyes eludes me
The language of the sea eludes
Me in the selfsame way.

The sea itself is a fabulous woman
Ceaselessly in a state of conception
And yet more conception
Who can tell what breed she might deliver?
Is it the band of fabled brigands of Avi?
Myself a father, begetter of a thousand children,
I have raised my offspring,
Put light on their eyes
Offered them my heart’s language
My head’s ways and aspire
To assign to them Time’s undying music.

So I have come searching for
Conch-shells within the sea
But suddenly a fear struck me, a gripping fear --
Indeed awfully frightened am I of the sea.

Time too itself is total lack of concern
The past, present and the future
Mingle and make one Time;
You dance around it,
A cluster of bioscopic shadows
I can’t identify you even with an effort
I rue that and then fear grips me swiftly:
Who would identify my one thousand offspring?
I know tides would sweep the Indus
The same tides which swept away
Many bright and old cities of the past;
Such floods would recycle,
The sea would expand again,
Dark shadows and death would come
With muted footfalls
And would suddenly reach very close --
All this raises my fear,
The sea indeed is my scare.

Even then, let the conch-shells rend the air
Though I know dark silhouettes
Would descend suddenly and
By and by the ripples of music
Would be stilled.

The sea itself seems unperturbed,
The sea is ceaselessly going in the family way.
The seeds of creative sense are now
Spread out all over my being,
Yet I am frightened of the sea
And the mystery of her very ancient bosom. [HND]
The Dawning
The crows are cawing
On the abandoned barracks

in the waiting water of the river
the night recedes into distances

Are the soldiers hiding
under the broken wooden bridge

The highland maids coming for a dip
would not know

The yellow mustard quivered
as the sun glowed on their fair breast

The soiled dark night
comes on back to the top of the barracks

The highland maids shaking with laughter
do not know that yet

After dipping in blood the night long
how ruddy the morning sky would be. [PA]
Posterity
On the bare forked branches
The full moon stands crucified
As in the picture.

The ridges of the house gleam
Like skulls in the moonlight.
Do they come or do they go?
Their heels kick up dust or red ants.

All at once I hear the chorus of hurrahs.
In the open sky
The bullets whiz with glee like a flight of birds.

I feel I am my slave. Only their bayonets
pick up their days all clammy with blood. [NT]
Moonlight
Tonight I had no sleep. Not insomnia,
Not fear, nor any weakness.
I can’t fall asleep.
The confused tumult
Drifting like the drone of beetles
Ended long ago.
The unclouded picture of stars
Shines even over the city.

The emerging moon stands on the floor of the sky
Is it a reflection of my manhood?
The golden field of crops glistens
I realize that like all women
The earth becomes pregnant,
Do the abundant crops dancing in the waves of moonlight
Give an inkling of some illicit love-affair?

I do not know all that, nor understand,
Ah, the joy of sleeping on the lawn of moonlight.
I hear the bewildered cry of deer
Floating on waves of moonlight.

I realize that all the harvest, all this golden crop
Will return as droplets of honey
To your tender bosom. [DNB]
He
It was they that laid over his bosom
The flag at half-mast.

It was they that buried his hands
Into the road they marched across.
In the darkness of the night,
So it is said,
The stars of the sky blossomed
O’er his dry fingers.

None knows this.

Does anyone believe this?

For,
Those two hands, and that road
Hid themselves in a river of pebbles
that flowed through a dark tunnel.

And yet
O’er his bosom he is now weaving
a green curtain
.... For his sake, and for all others. [EU]
Winds
Those of us who lived every night in the cry of birds
Fell into the midst of winds with the buffeting of a gust.
Dashed by winds, our bodies lost shape time and again.
Those bodies that golden snakes had coiled.
In their breathing we had lost consciousness time and again;
Only for a while were their kisses sweet.
On our chests blows of a golden hammer,
In the strings of our brains reverberate ceaselessly
monstrous sounds --
The same strings on which had sounded
The xylophone of the night’s river.

Another gust of wind wipes our tears --
Our salty tears with a gust from the sea --
The wind that one day fails to flutter
A sail on any sea-going ship,
Only rebounds and comes to our midst
As a gust of salty wind.

A gust of wind snatches away our horses --
Horses that were companions of the day --
Only fingers of steel leave inscribed
Their shadows under the trees, where we rested
one day.
Suddenly with the whistling of a jet plane,
Our blue sky falls on the light of liquid quicksilver,
Which cover the footfalls of our horses.

In a gust of wind are the slaughtered voices of
our birds,
That very gust wafts our laughter, raising pitiful
notes.
We rolled in laughter. [DNB]
A Winter Night’s Procession
On a winter night a procession moves past me.
Torches raised by many hands beckon me from those
bright islands.

How do I see their sparkling dances? through my eyes?
Or through my head?

They march forward. A whiff of hot air rushes up above
my head.

At daybreak I see their anemic faces in a heap of
swept up Sefali flowers,
And a fresh yet bone-chilling wind makes its way over their
fallen faces. [HD]
Identity
In the mirror
I seek ME. Only
I see you.
Your silent shout cracks
The mirror.

These two faces on each half
Yours and mine!
Which is whose?

I scream in fear.
The mirror shatters.
Among these jumbled faces.
Which is I?
Which is you?
How would I Know
Me
Without knowing you?

These faces in the mirror
Move from piece to piece
Never ceasing
And exchange each other.
I seek you,
You me.

The faces look at each other
Surprised,
As if one didn’t know the other
Or knowing
Does not know.
Tipping Point
The red sign
Our car stood still:
Houston. Hillcroft Road
The man stood by the wayside
A mug in hand and a poster on his chest
That read: 'I'm hungry'
I rummaged through my pockets for a coin
But car moved ahead
In the rear-view mirror, I could see
A white hand throwing away a dime
I could see, a pair of eyes
There was something in them
A sound previously unheard
We ascended a flyover
Houston's highest skyscraper within view
The cars seemed almost in flight –
Ford, Chevrolet, B.M.W., Mercedes, Toyota
I said, 'You've beggars here too.'
'Indolence,' my brother said. 'With just a little
They'll drown in beer.' 'Is he a negro?' I asked.
'Don't say negro. It's insulting. 'Black
Or African-American.' I remembered
A poem by Langston Hughes, 'The Negro Speaks of Rivers'
I asked my brother again, 'What's the poverty percentage here?'
'Poverty's a relative word. The poor here may be an elite
In Somalia.' He answered in a roundabout way.

We walked the downtown sidewalk
Hardly anybody around.
It was Sunday. A very few cars on the road
At a place, it said, 'Tipping Point.'
Straight road. Will the car fall over still?
'Interesting,' my brother said.
'The little changes go unnoticed.
But as they accumulate and add up
A little change could be the source of something big
All previous states could be erased
That's tipping point.'

We moved ahead. Making conversation
A block of picture-perfect houses
We crossed another habitation
'Whites lived here earlier, now
Blacks stay in this place. They came
In ones and twos. But as their numbers grew
The whites moved away. This too is a 'tipping point'
My brother said.
In Philadelphia
As I stood beside Ben Franklin's tomb one day
I felt like hearing the ring of the first bell
The bell had cracked up immediately after it was built
But it continued to sound.
Philadelphia!
Where the new-born nation walked its first steps
The cracked bell's still echoing those sounds
'Freedom, Democracy, Equality, Human Rights.'
Warm handshakes all around
The unknown faces on the street
And their courteous hellos,
And as we settled our fatigued selves
By resting on the stone-benches outside the huge malls
One would come up and say,
'May I help you?'

I asked my brother in Houston,
'I've met here
Jews, Indians, Vietnamese and the Chinese
People from all the continents
The blacks and the whites
But Americans? Who are they?'
'Anybody who's a citizen of the country
Is an American.'

Hillcroft Road. A man's there.
A poster on his chest, 'I'm hungry'
A white hand emerging from a luxurious car
A coin of compassion thrown down
A word unheard
Now I heard it clearly
'Nigger'
Sorry, African-American.
To a Lady in Budapest
I have been to old forts in our country
Today I’m here to see yours.
The architecture of your fort
Is not similar to ours. But in both places
History’s sword has left its mark.

If not for the rain, I wouldn’t have come
To your shop. You are selling your country’s
Souvenirs. You look at me
And smile.
Your smile isn’t romantic.
But it is flowing with the fragrance of affection.
I do not understand your language. But your smile
Is familiar to me.

From your shop
I buy a small souvenir of Budapest.
I try to leave in haste
You’re saying something to me and
I understand your strange language.
It’s raining still. Hurriedly
You hand an umbrella to me.
And, with the umbrella, I fly to the sky
The sky of your city
Is blue like ours. And it has specks
Of cloud in it. The castle in your city
I fly over it. Two towns
Buda and Pest. One a plateau and the other plain.
But both are the same city. Your Danube
Is said to be blue. But its water isn’t blue.
Our city’s river is said to be red, but its water too
Isn’t red. Your river is quiet, calm
A girl. Our river is a boisterous young man.

I know a poet from your city.
The broad road that’s named after him
That I’ve seen. Attila Josef
Is your poet. Your ancestor Attila the Hun
Was an accomplished fighter. You respect
Your poets. Soldiers too. We also
Hold our poets and soldiers in high esteem.
The French poet Perse said that soldiers and poets are brothers
And he wrote a poem called Anabasis.
I don’t know whether you’ve heard of it or not
But in the shop near the castle
You smile wonderfully.
I see poetry there.

Flying over your Opera House
I hear Bartoch’s piano
And hearing the Mathias Church organ playing
I descend.
I hand you your umbrella
And return on a way of light.

I fly once again
Over your city. I haven’t been in the flying machine
Described in the poetry of our poet Kalidas. But it seemed like riding
The victory chariot.
Perhaps I’ll never meet you again.
We live in two very distant cities.
You see your city from your perspective. I see it
Through the eyes of a foreigner. But still
I’m loving your city just as you do.

As I flew over your city
I found peace. If you come to my city you too will find
Peace. But peace?
Both of us are in two different places. Yet we
Are contemporaries, living in the same world.
That’s why, together we see, the world’s violence.
It is said to be terrorism. And it is
Also called freedom. Terrorism and freedom are two words.
Two skyscrapers, hitting against two words
Have been ruined. We have seen that together
We both see violence used to counter violence
A game of dice. We see, flying over the heads of our children
The fire-spitting dragon-faced flying machines.

Together, both of us have seen, two words
War and peace.
You love your soldiers and your poets
Equally.
Do you love war and peace equally too?
What do I love?
We live in two separate worlds
But we confront two worlds
But we confront two words simultaneously
War and peace. Warpeace.
Which is which? War and peace.
If somebody tells us to vote
Who will we vote for? War and peace
Both seek our vote. The soldier and the Poet
Together.

I know whom we’ll vote for
We’ll vote the future of mankind.
Another One
Is this me that I see in the mirror?
With graying hair, elongated chin, knitted brows
And many straight lines drawn across the forehead
Is this the one—
The one who’s my very own?
Sometimes I wonder—
I don’t know this man:
Whether he’s ugly or handsome, straight or knave,
A coward or a brave, spirited man.

O my people, my friends
My wife, daughter, son and brothers,
My masters who sustain me and my loyal co-workers
Whatever you have asked me to be
The same I’ve sought to become;
But I don’t know me
Maybe the image
Getting blurred in the mirror is mine
All of you know him well.

All of you know him
But within his brain an invisible entity called me
Shouts out regularly—
It’s the fear of being cured by your healthy hands
Have any among you understood this?
A Word for Love
You sought a word from me,
I gave you that word.
I looked at your face,
I called you a flower.

One word leads to another
Flower is a word. Through it our dumbness speaks.
We touch each other
And enthused we are.
Some cruel words can tear a flower apart
Can crush it underneath one’s feet, can wipe it away
Just as an infant’s neck can be slit open with a knife
And give a sadist pleasure in an anguished cry.

But still there are words like the flower,
It fades, closes upon itself, falls off
But it rests upon your smile and there it lives.

I love such a word
It carries love. A mere black sign,
Yet it touches you, and then touches me.
Towards Freedom
You’ll come with us. We will take you by the hand.
Don’t look at the road. We will cover your eyes.
We will build the road for you. And we will tie up your hands.
We will take you to the freedom ground. And uncover your eyes.
Take you to the freedom ground. And untie your hands.

Don’t make a racket. We will give you new table to memorise.
We will give you a new alphabet. Don’t make a racket.

We will take you to the freedom ground. We will give you a clear sky.
Freedom showers will welcome you there. Freedom breeze will fan you.

Don’t cry in hunger. We will give you sweetmeats of water.
Don’t look at the bare boughs. We will give you coloured glasses to see.

We will take you to the freedom ground and tell you to sing our song.
We will make you wear a new mask and teach you a new gait.

You will come with us. You will smile our smile.
You will dance our dance. You will cry our tears.
Me, My Umbrella and He
I have taken my seat upon the stone-bench by the river bank.
Beside me, my umbrella –
I will take the steamboat to the other side
As I sat on one end of the stone bench, at the other, sat he. His tousled hair
Almost veiled his eyes.
Fried chana on a paper sheet, he munched away. Some page
Torn away from a magazine. As he gulped the chana
He glanced at me, again, and again.

On the stone-bench, it was me, my umbrella and he. Suddenly
'You're a poet, you're a poet, you, you're a poet,' cried he
The same sentence: a point of view, a question, a sarcastic remark
The paper-sheet, which carried my interview, also had my picture
The umbrella's the line dividing us; the border, rather.
Will he cross the boundary and move over to my side?
Before I could say anything, he asked, 'Can you write poems with sticks?'
'With guns?' A handle-shorn mug appeared from his bag
Brandishing it before me, 'Does your poems have this?' said he.
He covered up his face with both hands as he coughed on.
Once over, he showed me his hands, saying 'Do your poems have such blood?'
Mucus and phlegm all over his blood-splattered palms
Some V.I.P convoy's passing by, that's the siren ringing on
He spit out in that direction: the crimson droppings flew by
And fell to the ground. Oblivious, the V.I.P convoy moved away
We sat on the stone-bench, both of us occupying opposite ends
Pointing to my umbrella, he said, 'this is yours.'
'Have you seen mine?' Out came a sprawling arum-leaf
And holding it atop his head, he began to dance

Is he mad, or eccentric?

He continued to dance

At the hoot of the steamboat I rushed onto it
Only when I reached mid-river did I realise
I had left my umbrella behind

On coming back, I saw him there still
He was seated on the stone-bench
My umbrella atop his head: 'That's mine,' I said
'It's my royal umbrella', he uttered with regal abandon
The stone-bench the royal seat, where he sat in majestic splendour
(That's the impression he gave)
I couldn't say a word.
On my way home got drenched in the heavy downpour.

Now, as I ready myself to write a poem, with paper and pen
I write, 'Me, My Umbrella and He', no, must dispense with the commas
Me my umbrella and he.
But the sentence's still incomplete
My umbrella, looking for a verb, has gone atop his head
And his arum-leaf's stranded, as in my sentence
I haven't found it its room.
Frog Rains
Last monsoon, we didn't have any rain in our fields
We had married off the frogs
Remember? The newly-married frog couples
Had gleefully jumped across the fields
They moved towards the speck of dark clouds on the horizon,
We didn't hear the crackling of those clouds
After all, they weren't the clouds of our skies
Our plans (and our estimates)
Went haywire
As the honeymooning frog couples moved away
We hoped, and prayed
Let the frog bride expect a million ones

Today, the clouds are pregnant in the skies
Do you hear the thunder?
There'll be unheard-of rains this year, says the fortune-teller
We've now heard the unprecedented thunder

See, the rain's coming down
Almost a hailstorm! On our rooftops
The roads, and on the hills too
It's the sound of the heavy pelting rains
But no –
It's only the frog rains; Prayer-driven,
The frog bride's now the mother of a million ones
Bred within the slimy comfort of the placenta,
Thousands and thousands of frog infants
Are coming down
As frog rains.

The signs of fresh projects clearly visible on their faces
Along with new estimates.
With the frog canopy over our heads
We are now giving in to the new times.

For the great times ahead
The frog-plans are afloat
Ritualised and mantra-like,
They are being circulated by rote.

The frog showers are still coming down
Battered and bruised, we are drenched in its rain.
Afloat
I couldn’t see your face in the dark,
I wanted to, though.
Something kept us afloat
The wild smell of the woods, it wafted through.

And then, your shaky visage was suddenly aglow
We were in the hills, in the midst of flames:
The gold-purifying blaze.

That it was morning again, we came to know
With the cock’s crow:
Our fire-scarred bodies
Cooled down now.
The Root
While we go on searching for the main root
Below the land’s surface
Many rootlets proceed right and left
Forward and backward preoccupied with
The search for the elixir of life.
Up in the aerospace the tree questing for oxygen
Is getting inebriated at the call of light.
There is no knowing of the indication
Of the main root.
From each branch of the majestic banyan tree
Countless rootlets are covertly creeping downward
As if a mother is engaged in training her baby
All about crawling.

The main root of this family
Has become untraceable
May be it has ceased to exist
But the identity of the banyan tree
Has not vanished for that matter.

Hosts of birds have gulped its nuts
Execrated the seeds at places far and wide,
From those such seeds new trees have grown
At distant places and unseen quarters.
The banyan tree is not aware of all this
Nor is it bothered by such sequels.
Even after losing its main root
It is not stricken by the anxiety
Of losing its identity
And is not at all concerned about
Its progeny in some new wilderness
Sprouting from a certain particular tree.

It has learned to receive
The stimulus of sunshine
It has learnt how to expand its foliage
It has mastered the art of concealing
Its root inside its seed
The tree has aspired to the cosmos
After touching the sky.
Therein rests its identity
Do not quest for the same
In its root
The root’s quiverings do not stir up
Its leafy branches.

Witnessing a Torch-procession at Night
A torch-procession passed by me
On a winter night
The islets aglow from each torch
Held high by every hand
Waved at me summoning;
I know not if its glow danced
On my eyes or on my brain.

They passed by,
A torrent of hot air rushed over my head
And a gust of hot wind
Did blow yet higher up.
Next day at early dawn
I did behold their stale faces
On the sewali flowers strewn
At the gateway to my house,
A stream of cold piercing wind
Passed by hopping over them.

Tazmahal under Moonlight
(As viewed on a holiday tour)

The autumn moon is shining
On the central court-yard of the sky
Its benign smile is spread out
On the marble slabs and
Overflowing silvery waves are dispersed over
The smooth carpet of grass

The emperor of love and his empress
Are lying asleep inside the marble-dome

O my appreciative travelling companions,
Please observe fascinatingly
This paradise of love on earth
And drink deep the flow of love’s nectar,
Inebriated by this elixir
Your gaze would miss
The frozen arms about to be raised
From the silent depth
And the pale faces implanted on each marble-slab.

Those to whom these faces belong
They were also votaries of love
Because the blood of the emperor’s heart
Got mingled with the blood
Of their bodies too
Passing through the secret underground cavities
Long long ago
The accumulated blood merged with the Jamuna water,
How else this white-marble memorial
Looks so pale under moonlight?

Hark, my fellow travelers,
When you listen rapturously
This undying saga of love
And every one of you get oblivious
Of your earthly pangs
At that precise moment I stealthily move
To the backyard of this mausoleum
And observe how this fool moon
By neglecting its business
Is spraying its white light
On the dirty waters of Jamuna.

Jamuna is feebly flowing,
As if the perception of a gentle river.
Over its flotsam lies a tattered woman’s-wear
The sole clue to a certain woman flung to
A watery grave sometime ago.
Had I not faintly spotted an overturned boat
This solitary reminder of the watery grave
Caused by the last summer’s swelling river
Would have been passed by me unnoticed.

On the other bank of Jamuna the hovels ravaged by
The preceding year’s summer-flood
Still stand erect.
All over this world of love’s ambience
Darkness has taken shelter
Squeezing itself inside these hovels.