AN OLD POET’S SUICIDE NOTE
Walking in the dark
I grew blind
Wading across silence
I turned deaf
Teachers who speak ceaselessly about light,
how far above is it?
Prophets who taught me about revolution,
how remote is it?
My legs have grown weary
My heart beats are slow
You still tell lies
Don’t lie to children, said the poet
who just died of the world.
I searched in all the books,
for a word of truth
I dug every drought
for a drop of tear
I can no more speak of earth’s beauty
sitting on a sinking land.
Cannot speak of trees sitting inside a storm
Cannot speak of beginnings sitting inside a deluge
I had a country when I was born
Now I am a refugee
I was born in a single chain;
several chains fetter me now
I raised my hands to scream against injustice
I said ‘don’t’ to the vile hunter.
My life is a collection of vain deeds.
This is the first poem I write
without corrections and revisions
This is the first song of the night
I sing without faltering.
The spring of my dreams has gone dry
I draw the curtains on this shadow play,
quickly, easily, like switching off a TV set.
Farewell. Call me when the world changes.
I shall come back if the hungry worms
and the obstructing angels permit me.
(For M M Kalburgi)
Beware of my silence!
It is heavier than speech,
A ceaseless river in search of
A new earth, like my Basava’s vachanas.
Beware of my words!
They can change the wind’s directions,
Bring alive the buried truths
Turn every stone into Shiva,
Every scavenger into a saint,
Every gutter into Ganga.
Beware of my magic!
It can transform your bullets
Into garlands for my guru
Until he dances with your skulls
Over your ashes in the burning ground.
I will make visible
What your history concealed
I will discover words
Your lexicons silenced.
I will name planets
That were never in your orbit.
I will create new laws
For a new country none has seen
Where he first human will be born.
Beware of my words:
They have many tongues like the sea.
They are tomorrow’s seeds
Set to enlighten many more Buddhas.
My eyes are now polestars
And my breath, the borderless wind.
Beware! I am more alive now
Than when I was alive!
(Translated from Malayalam by the poet )
She stripped herself bare
and scrawled with charcoal
all over her body: ‘Non-negotiable’.
Then she poured petrol
from head to foot
and set herself afire.
ONCE UPON A TIME
Do you know that once upon a time
every bird sang- not just the cuckoo
on the village-tree, but even the crow,
the midnight’s daughter? *
It was they who gave us words.
Their songs watered the fields,
filled flowers with poetry,
fruits with stories, sleep with dreams,
breasts with milk, bodies with desire
and hearts with kindness.
They ceased to sing when their beaks
filled with blood. Then no more did
the trees dance, beasts smile,
nor the stones speak and
the streams lost their sweetness.
Then the Buddha and I were left alone.
We could not see each other in the dark;
we trembled in the cold like peepal leaves.
Buddha’s sobs alone illumined the nothingness.
When we could bear it no more,
we cried in one voice: ‘Oh!’
Then there was light.
And the birds came back.
They beat their half-burnt wings
and sang with their choked throats,
in the few words that still remained,
a song about the colours and the tongues
that had vanished from the earth:
in our own graveyard.
(Translated from Malayalam by the poet)
* ‘The Cuckoo on the Village-tree’ is the title of a poem by the great Malayalam poet Kumaran Ashan and ‘midnight’s daughter’ is a metaphor used by another great poet, Vailoppilly Shreedhara Menon to describe the crow.
We were certain they would come.
We broke the idols of those who
might have stood against them, one by one.
We waited in the capital to welcome them
with goblets brimming with children’s blood.
We removed our clothes to put on barks
set fire to monuments,
propitiated fire for the sacrifices to come ,
changed the names of the royal streets.
Afraid our libraries might provoke them
we razed them to the ground, letting
only the palm leaves inscribed with the mantras
of black magic to survive.
But we did not even know when they came.
For, they had come up, holding aloft
our own idols, saluting our flag,
dressed like we used to be,
carrying our law-books, chanting our slogans,
speaking our tongue, piously touching
the stone-steps of the royal assembly.
Only when they began to poison our wells,
rob our kids of their food and
shoot people down accusing them of thinking
did we realise they had ever been
amidst us, within us. Now we
look askance at one another and wonder,
‘Are you the barbarian? Are you?’
No answer. We only see the fire spreading
filling our future with smoke and our
language turning into that of death.
Now we wait for our saviour at the city square,
as if it were someone else.
( Remembering C. P. Cavafy’s famous poem, ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’.)
THE GIRL OF THIRTEEN
The girl of thirteen
is not the boy of thirteen.
She has died drowning in nightmares
until she forgot her butterflies.
She has passed through caverns of darkness
leaving the lullabies behind.
The girl of thirteen is forty-three.
She knows a bad touch from a good one
She knows it’s not wrong
to tell a lie in order to survive.
She knows how to fight a war,
with teeth or with songs.
You see only the rose on her body;
but it’s full of thorns
The girl of thirteen can fly.
She doesn’t want to leave the sun
and books just for men.
Her swing circles the moon
and moves from melancholy to madness.
She doesn’t dream of the prince
as you seem to think.
The girl of thirteen has her feet
in the netherworld even as she
touches the rainbow.
One day, sword in her hand, she
will come riding a white horse.
Listening to the hooves echo in the clouds
you will know , the tenth avatar
the puranas prophesy is
( Translated from Malayalam by the poet)
(On reading Cho. Dharman’s Dalit novel, Koogai, The Owl )
I am the Lord of the Night
All that I survey is mine.
The moonlight turning the river into gold
is mine, mine the starlight from another age.
The sleeping beasts, the sleepless trees,
all belong to the ever-open eyes of
this winged Jagannath of the woods.
My hoot is a language.
A single hoot welcomes the night,
a double hoot announces rain.
Three hoots prophesy storm,
four is earthquake’s statement
and five, deluge, the end of the world.
A black slave in daylight, I am easy prey
even to sparrows and doves.
Scared of claws and beaks I hide,
Even crows assault and drive me off,
As if I were no bird, as if I were… a cat.
My blindness is my nemesis; I am
like the Dalit who hardly knows his might.
I don’t like the sun’s swooping hawk
nor the white peacock of dancing daylight.
One evening the whole world will be mine.
The day of torments will then come to an end
and endless night begin, the kind, tender night
of the outcastes, the women and the lovers
when those hunted down during the day
shall claim the streets as their very own.
Walk, walk, walk together
Walk with the questions
yet to find an answer
Walk with the song
without a roof
Walk with the pitcher
whose river has vanished
Walk with the last leaf
of the felled tree
Walk with the consonants
of the proscribed poem
Walk with the blood
from the stab-wound
K. Satchidanandan is a major Indian poet and critic, writing in Malayalam, and English. An academician, editor, translator and playwright, he has an acute sense of the socio-political. He was a Professor of English and Editor of Indian Literature, the journal of the Sahitya Akademi (India’s National Academy of Literature) and the executive head of the Sahitya Akademi for a decade (1996–2006). His poems have been translated into several languages. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honours.