Abstract: The 62-poem anthology Poetry at Midnight is a translation of ‘Pathuntanipookal’ that Ayyappa Paniker published in the middle of 2004, four and a half decades after Kurukshetram and fifteen years after Gothrayanam, the saga of humanity.’ In between he had written countless poems dealing with the entire gamut of emotions, feelings and situations. In all of them, naturally, there was a gradual evolution of style in keeping with both the progression of the literary world and the development of the individual self.
In the latest collection, however, the style is markedly different. The poems may be dealing with serious issues of life and death, love and marriage, ill-health and separation, youth and old age etc, but they are all written in an easy-to- understand, intimate style, mostly in the form of conversation between two people. While Kurukshetram, Gothrayanam and pieces like Passage to America and Kudumba Puranam project him at his vintage best, Poetry at Midnight, I feel, will project a new Ayyappa Paniker who is simple and unambiguous even when being subtle and esoteric.
Keywords: poetic idioms, Malayalam poetry evolution, poetic sensibility, Malayalam translated poems, modernism in Malayalam literature, Paniker poems
I have had the privilege of being a student of K Ayyappa Paniker for both my under-graduate and post-graduate courses in the first half of the 1960s. Ayyappa Paniker was then widely known as one of the best teachers of English at the University College, Trivandrum, sharing that reputation with stalwarts like the late E. P. Narayana Pillai, who was subsequently Principal of the College, the late G Kumara Pillai, B. Hridayakumari etc.
That was the time when Dr Paniker had already established himself as the main voice of modernism in Malayalam poetry. Through the efforts of poets like Ayyappa Paniker, N. V. Krishna Warrier, Attoor Ravi Varma, N. N. Kakkad and Satchidanandan, Malayalam poetry was undergoing a transformation during that decade. A conscious attempt was on by them to create a new idiom, or rather new idioms and to promote a new sensibility.
When Ayyappa Paniker first came to our B. A. Literature class in 1961 to teach us Shakespeare’s Hamlet and later History of the English Language, we had looked at him with awe as his trail blazing Kurukshetram, published a year earlier, was then being hotly debated in literary circles in the state. Many of us were in fact seeing a poet in flesh and blood for the first time and the poet in Ayyappa Paniker had something special, the aura of a pioneer.
To many of the students Dr Paniker was an enigma. He was rather serious in his disposition and extremely scholarly in his manner of teaching but there was not a single moment in his class that was boring. Even the driest of subjects, like Old English, would in his hands turn out to be a very lively topic. That was the reason why none of us wanted to miss his classes. What distinguished his lecture was a judicious employment of his native sense of humour. It was not cracking of jokes to enliven the class as many teachers often do. He would never do that. But in the course of his lecture there would be a word or a phrase, or a sentence, delivered with deadpan seriousness, that would bring out, very subtly, the irony of the situation. That was all that was needed for the class to burst into laughter.
This innate sense of humour, this subtle sarcasm, is perhaps evident throughout his writing, even when he is dealing with serious subjects.
In fact simplicity is something that Ayyappa Paniker highlights in a couple of poems as the hallmark of good poetry. In the beautifully evocative poem ‘The Temple’ the poet refers to a visit to a temple by himself and his friend and inter-alia says:
`It’s the same way poetry creates problems.
When something is said it may be considered
Post-modern to question or suspect the manner of saying.
But can’t you be a little more simple, friend?’
`Good poetry is conversation,’ he says in ‘Conversation’, the end piece of the anthology, as though giving his last word on the matter
`Sometimes only one person speaks,
That is the enduring characteristic of poetry.
So, write on, tomorrow also. Shall try.’
While the poems in this anthology stand apart individually, a reader can discern an underlying connectivity that links all of them together as a composite whole. The anthology is about man and his environment. As different strands make up a string, it can be said that Poetry at Midnight is a poetical’ string made up of 62 strands.
According to Ayyappa Paniker all the poems in this collection were written near about midnight. Hence the title Poetry at Midnight.
When my revered teacher suggested that I translate this anthology I took it up both as a challenge and as a great honour. Challenge because despite their simplicity many of the poems defied a proper translation. Literal translation was possible but naturally that would render the poems bereft of their true character, their ambience. For instance, there were some poems that contained words or expressions, or imagery, that were purely of a local flavour. Rendering them into English in a rather roundabout manner would mean loss of that local touch.
I have anyway tried to be honest to the text though I am aware that the effect would be far below that of reading them in their original Malayalam.
I submit these translations as my belated Guru Dakshina to my respected teacher.
There is a woodland far, far away.
Shall we go there?
We can build a hut
and Live there, park ourselves there
Share the chill and the sunshine
Watch the green of the woods
Crawl up your body
See the songs of the birds
Through the branches
The flowing rivulet
Sunken in the sand.
We can go there
Progressives may ridicule it as
That old theory of escapism.
We can take them also with us
There, while romping home.
What all décor is needed
In the third sleeping room that we use
When we quarrel?
I haven’t forgotten the stories you told me
In those times of closeness and wonderment.
The end will be abrupt.
There may not be time to say farewell.
So, Happy Journey!
We first met at the promontory that
Is thought to have hidden danger.
How did you reach there?
You may say, like others, that
Life brought you there.
All have learnt to say so.
I came not because of life,
But because of the lack of it.
A lifelessness that denied me even sleep.
I came to this promontory out of sheer boredom.
When I saw you here I was perplexed.
Were you in such a plight as to come here?
This promontory had invited many
To it and blessed them.
But we did not get that blessing.
After our meeting then
This place was out of mind for quite some time.
Now we come here again.
For what purpose?
To see the view from this point?
Or to confirm its bad name?
Why did you come here?
Why did you bring me here?
It was a strange dream
That we both saw!
I am on top of Anamalai now.
Here it is lonely, devoid of people.
Gods may be seen at times
Speeding this way and that.
It is said celestial musicians and fairies
Do not come here often nowadays,
Angels may be sauntering
In the valleys.
They need cardamom,
Pepper and tea, don’t they?
Here it is biting cold.
It is chilly even at noon.
Since the cold is acute
Even winds do not blow this way.
The monsoon just ogles
To complete my loneliness
Won’t you come, friend?
When will you come?
At what time? How will you come?
If you come here
I will speak
Without a break.
You just have to listen.
So speaking like that
Nights will fly away like flower petals.
Sunrises will get frozen,
The day will grow less piteous.
There is no grammar here.
Everything can be said openly or otherwise.
Once you came to see me in hospital.
Did you know what my illness was?
The beginning of love.
I was very weak then.
You came into the room.
Behaved like a guest.
Asked what my illness was.
When you placed your hand on my forehead
My fever was gone.
If you had checked my pulse
My blood pressure would have come down too.
And if you had placed your hand on my chest,
To check my heart beat,
All my illness would have vanished
Even without understanding its cause.
You never showed any closeness then.
It is a good thing that
You realise it now.
Yet, purusha will always be
Don’t you believe that you have
Got me back, friend?
Didn’t you hear me say that I have come back?
Your face is silent, gloomy, unhappy.
Nothing that is lost can be retrieved.
Can’t you believe
That you never lost me?
Haven’t you advised me not to
Succumb to desire?
You too have to overcome desire.
You have an anxiety, a suspicion that
I am hiding something. Anxiety
The path of love is very hard.
Many have said so.
As for me, I will not get
A life like this again.
Many have said so too.
In those days when.
I was shedding tears
You were indifferent.
Now I do not understand
What you need.
Don’t get upset.
BY THE RIVERSIDE
Didn’t you take me
To the riverside in your village?
Yesterday in a dream
When I went there
A boat came and
You alighted from it.
I asked: ‘ Friend,
Where had you gone?’
You said, just to loiter around
Why did you return now, I asked.
You said, to meet you
And did you, I asked
Yes, you said.
Then we returned home.
There at the door of your old study
We took pictures.
These are my memories,
The answer to the question ‘Remember?’
But shouldn’t they be
Forgotten some day?
The sky asked the earth:
How can you lie like that?
The earth told the sky:
Don’t get over me and shine like that.
The sky asked the earth again:
Why are you, who do not lie still
Even for a day, wrangling with me?
The earth to the sky:
You cannot move
You cannot go anywhere
It is because of my rotation
That you rise and set.
Do you know it?
The sky again:
I cannot move
So can’t we
Continue as such?
There will not be time
To say anything further.
Will there be time to listen
To what is said in return?
Time to loosen the bundle
Of plaints and spread them out?
Opportunity to measure out
The pile of complaints?
The time for quarrel is over.
Now no more quarrel.
Time is also too short for reconciliation.
Look, friend, you have fever
I know I too have fever.
I will not say everything today.
We will part without ever saying it fully.
You should not get angry.
Don’t be cross.
YESTERDAY I DID NOT
Yesterday I did not see you or hear you.
Yesterday I did not touch you or prod you.
When you were sleeping with your eyes closed
Did not come to you to rouse you with a kiss.
Did not re-arrange the bangles on your wrist
Or caress the toe-ring on your foot.
Did not stroke the tip of your saree,
Or sing to you any youthful melody.
Did not kiss the flower buds on your breast
Or wet your lips with the tongue.
Yesterday in the cradle of your dreams
Did not lie down cooing and cuddling and snuggling.
Did not fondle and caress each of your fingers
Or give soothing strokes to either of your legs.
Did not sit beside you when you were sleeping
To go on gazing at your closed eye-lids.
Did not badger the black spot on your lip
Or sing a lullaby to put you to sleep.
Did not seat you on the lap and play on the
Sitar of your body
Like the rustle of the moonlight.
Did not lie down embracing your tender body,
Or inhale your honey sweet fragrance.
Yet what is in today’s memory is
The sweet recollection of finding
A space in the panchakoshas yesterday,
Not in anna maya, of food, or prana maya, of life breath,
Mano maya, of the mind, or vignana maya, of knowledge,
But the two of us fused together in a spiritual bind
In ananda maya, like bliss that was brimming over.
Light Breeze has an elder brother – Mountain Wind.
He usually comes jumping down the bamboo grove.
Stomping on the chest of Light Breeze he comes.
Are you jealous of him, Light Breeze?
Are you angry with him?
When he snorts and gets on top of you
You don’t scream, don’t sigh either.
Your breath is always gentle
You don’t cry, you don’t even murmur.
Aren’t you too a wind, Light Breeze?
How can you be so fearful of your elder wind?
Can’t you also blow hard when needed?
Ordinarily is it not humans who are afraid of Big Brother?
As you blow with a light mind
In light blue colour
When it is slightly warm or
Cool droplets will fall on the surface of the earth.
In the gentle sounds of that the terrorists will crumble
And the earth will become habitable again.
It is not the hardened minds, friend,
But tender minds
That deserve to be hailed Long Live.
So, distressing experiences,
Do keep my mind as a light breeze.
Is the routine of thirty-five years getting upset?
The routine of sun, moon and other bodies
Unerringly moving in their orbits.
Drought in spring
Flowering in the rainy season
Cool clime in summer
Is this the way of
But, however much Time changes,
Aren’t you the same for me, always?
Are you above Time?
You too will rotate in the wheel of Time.
But you are to me
The floral fragrance of my seasonal cycle.
My mango nectar.
My autumn harvest.
Checking the blood pressure of Time,
Fixing the age of the world,
I will welcome you and take you, friend,
On a journey without return.
To my infinite bosom.
There you will get fragrant breath
And sniffing your bosom I will again get aroused.
Where are you going now?
— In search of the locker where dreams are kept.
Do you know where?
—Yes. But will not tell you. If I do they will
leave that place on their own.
Will you get them if you go now?
— If we apply early they will send
them in the night.
Do you know where they are kept?
— Will tell you. Between heaven and hell.
Tied up with lotus vine and hung from a thread.
How can you see them?
— If the application is approved they will
come and meet us between sleeping and dozing.
We say we see dreams when actually
Dreams come and see us.
Do you know what is today’s dream?
— Today, in Germany. The scene is a
water carnival jointly by men and women.
There is no special costume for me.
What are they doing?
— They are doing the rain-dance.
When the raindrops fall on the body
They start dancing.
If the rain stops the dance will stop.
The images will fade. Day-light will hide everything. Then?
— Once the dance is over fairies will
creep on us and roll over.
—Then, we will kill the enemies.
May be they will kill us.
—What then? Consummation with the beloved,
gain of treasure, fulfillment of hopes and fancies.
Do you know how
you wrote my poems?
Do you know why
you wrote them?
Do you know that all good works
are written by the other self?
We do not know ourselves.
The other self may know.
Poetry is a means to know.
Not a manifestation of what is known.
He who thinks he has known
does not write anything.
If there is something to be known
There will be something to be written.
So while writing each line
Remember that is poetry by the other self.
The writer in us is the other self.
Thus you write my poem
And I yours.
ONE AND TWO
Today and yesterday
Tomorrow and the day after
If always it is
Will we have?
Won’t the hope to become one
Only if we are two?
Is it not better to be two
And then become one
Rather than be one
And then become two?
Will tell a story.
Once upon a time in the sky
Had no stars.
Had no fishes.
Had no birds
Had no animals.
No, Not so.
How about this?
Had no forests.
Had no trees.
Had no branches.
Had no nests.
Had no birds.
Had no wings.
Had no feathers.
Had no rainbows.
Then how did all these things
Come into being. friend?
Then, when we met each other
And became one
The rains came,
Feathers came, wings came,
Nests came, birds came,
Branches came, trees came,
Forests came, earth came,
The sky and the stars came,
And fishes in the oceans—
A dream has come and stands there, coy and bashful.
Let us share it, friend.
Reality is not within our hold.
Till the sun sets and darkness spreads
It is the reign of reality.
Only then there is a possibility of any dream rule.
It comes in sleep.
The conscious zone is put out.
So, both can see the same dream.
The noon now does not have any magical touch.
Logic and facts rule here.
Beneath the closed eye-lids
Male dreams and female dreams.
You take the female dream.
I will take the other.
In the dream seen yesterday
The dead spoke to me.
Through the phone, it was seen.
Inter-world link, perhaps.
Wonder how it is going to be today.
One day you should come in a dream
And take me far, far away.
There we can make days and nights dreamful.
This is a big forest.
If we take the by-lane
We can reach the pond-side.
Not pond. A big lake.
Swans glide over the water.
Lilies are in full bloom.
There is music
When the water ripples.
Come, friend, this is our world.
Here life and death are alike.
A bunch of smiles blossom
On the face resting on the shoulder.
It is not yet time to wake up.
The day has not dawned.
The milkmaid has not arrived.
Nor the newspaperman.
The alarm has not rung.
The neighbours have not called.
From this dream we need not wake up, friend.
THE LONE STAR
When I came first
You called me light.
In a rain soaked evening
You had wiped my hair dry, remember?
My skirt was all wet.
I know you had gone off to the hill shrine
Hiding me in the outhouse, keeping me
Away from the room and outside.
Don’t try to fool me.
Later at the time when days end
You saw me in the brilliance of the dusk.
In the saffron washed sky
There was not a single star.
Then after the dusk
I became night
I became moonlight.
Now here I am,
Beyond the horizon,
A solitary star.
On the way from
Kolhapur to Pune
A deer was lying dead on the road.
A bird was sitting on it,
We heard its chirping
as an elegiac song.
We got out of the car
And watched that scene.
And singing bird.
You liked that picture very much.
Holding me tight
You lay down for some time, closing your eyes.
Did you think
That I was the bird
And you the deer?
Or the other way round?
When we reached Pune
The sun had set already.
You lay in the car with your head in my lap.
Like a fawn.
We did not talk throughout the journey.
You took my hand placed it on your bosom.
Why was it, friend, that you,
Who have always been talkative,
Remained silent all that while?
Now, say something.
In all life
There is a light, isn’t it?
Sometimes it comes early,
If it comes it will go on
Burning till death, right?
Always seeking new life,
Never burning out.
From the sand dunes of the desert
I had come to this carpet of green.
It was here that I met you.
That was my destiny.
Like a river running in panic,
Not knowing where the sea is,
Drying up at times,
Turning and bending, facing
Cheating and fraud,
As though water flow
Is never a straight flow,
Falling down at places and getting up,
I managed to reach you.
You are to me both my peace and disquiet.
Oh Sea, may I merge in you?
But the river will always keep flowing.
You too are like me,
Peaceful but agitated.
No. Let us sleep for some more time.
We shall cross the sea later.
THE WATER IN KANNADIPUZHA
Haven’t you heard that water in
Kannadipuzha is refusing to flow?
The Collector has sent a report to the government.
A policeman dirtied the river.
So the water decided not to flow.
He swung the lathi to threaten the river.
Yet the river did not budge.
Then the Tahsildar came wrote down the order and put into the river.
That paper also did not flow.
He reported to the Collector, as usual.
Officials and the constabulary stood on either side.
Panchayat President Dakshikkutty waved the green flag
And ordered the river to flow.
Leaders all have sent telegrams and e-mails and fax against the river.
Will the river flow, friend?
It is to be seen.
I think it will flow.
The river cannot ignore the government’s order.
Isn’t the government bigger than everything?
Second only to God?
Why blame the river?
Isn’t it the duty of the river to flow?
But no one need think it can be compelled to flow.
If I were the river I too will not flow.
I will flow only if I feel so.
If the river does not flow the land will come to ruin.
The People will suffer.
Then how to solve the problem?
If all the children of the land come to the riverside
Put flowers into the river, please the river
By singing and dancing and assure it
That waste will not be thrown into it,
Then the river may flow.
Only then will it become the real Kannadipuzha.
When I flew
in search of pleasure
I knew you were worried.
You always viewed seriously
only your worries
When you had gone away
You had not considered
the worries that I had.
All people take into account
only their personal worries.
Each of them asks why
others do not think like them.
To cause worries to each other
is a symptom of prakriti-purusha love.
Love is a cause for disquiet
Expectations prepare for pain.
We should not cause worries
Should not see all mistakes as mistakes.
Prakriti should not quarrel with purusha.
Look, purusha is resting his head
On the lap of prakriti.
When you wake up we can quarrel again, do you hear?
THE BABY POEM
Here I have written a new poem.
I brought it before you.
Long ago when he came to see the child
Lying beside me on the neonatal bed
She suppressed her smile for a long time.
Then slowly allowed a smile to blossom.
Likewise, this poem of mine
Will smile only slowly when coming before you.
A little shyness
Then everything happened suddenly.
The poem grew up fast.
Sang and danced and enjoyed herself.
Embraced the earth and nature.
this was in my mind
It reached completion only now.
It has come of age.
Me? I too became closer to her.
It was as if I did not need anyone else or anything else,
She needed me.
Similarly our poem
Will bring us closer.
Will welcome, will bless,
Like life itself.
Here, now it is your poem too.
This child is yours too.
THE BARBER CROW
The Barber Crow went away to the east,
The vulture flew away to the west.
The crow’s eggs are black eggs
The sparrow’s eggs are white eggs.
The crow broke the sun to pieces, biting it
The dove broke the moon without biting it
The rain came dove n the wings of the crow,
The rainbow slept on the beak of the parrot.
The crow spread leaves to sleep in the nest,
The myna and the little ones got in there first.
The next day morning
The crow flew beyond the sea,
The vulture flew beyond the sky.
The dove and the sparrow, the parrot and the myna
Wandered the earth, biting and picking up food.
Do you like the story and the song, friend?
Before the road, the bridge and the cars came,
The boatman had to be hailed from the other bank.
`Keep to the Left’
During day-time it can be seen.
But in the night one had to call out aloud.
The lone wick of the small lamp, at times,
Would reflect on the ripples as a long moving line.
Rubbing his sleepy eyes Urumiyappan
Would come rowing the boat.
It was fun to listen to the sound of rowing.
‘Is that the way you are taking me there?’
‘Those times are over, friend.’
You may say
‘I want to go to Kavalam.
Want to see all places.
The door of the log chamber, the central court-yard,
The river landing, the basil platform,
The school yard and the riverside.
Will I get a plot time?’
‘Will it be sufficient to see the final resting place?’
‘Will I be there in that time, friend?’
‘You will. You must,’ you insist.
‘I will not come. I will not be around.
Even if I am I will not come.
I cannot bear to see it.
`So let me now see enough of you.
Your profile in the photo.
Northern Wind, you
Go far to the south and
Bring to me the warmth
of a body I knew.
Eastern Wind, you
Go far to the west, beyond
The sea, and whisper to
An ear familiar with my voice.
Southern Wind, you
Come as speedily as you can
And bring to me the arrows that
I keep in a cave in the south.
Western Wind, you
Blow cold again and again and please
Tell me how bright is the place where
He reigns beyond the mountains.
THE BIRD TREE
If the bird tree does not bloom
Should it be cut down?
If the hibiscus does not bear fruit
Should it be uprooted?
If the milk flow is scanty
Should the cow be killed?
If my mother is raped
Would she cease To be my mother?
`Where is the horse?
Bring it at once,
I am going to the bride’s house.’
So you said, as you prepared for the journey.
The sky was overcast.
The streaks of lightning
Illuminated the clouds.
Stormy winds screeched past.
The birds perched on trees were frightened.
Those which lost their grip
On the shaking branches
Fluttered their wings and perched back again.
Wearing royal costumes and hat and holding
A whip in the hand you came and mounted the horse
Seeing you the stormy winds went away in dread.
My Rajput warrior prince,
The friend of the clouds, came like that.
On the sand dunes of the desert
Over which rivers of blood had flowed in the past
Only saffron marks remained.
I waited long for your arrival on horse-back,
My sight stretched farther.
And tapping my feet in consonance
With the beat of the hooves of the horse
My whole body swayed.
Lasting symbols take birth in the mind of man
And they shine like archetypal idols.
I still remember
My lover, hero, prince
Appearing as a handsome man on horseback.
Tell me, friend, which folk song should I sing?
Which folk dance should I dance?
Know, your command is my pleasure.
Walking towards the temple you said:
As we go round the outer temple —
I butted in:
The mind feels so peaceful!
You, who always agreed, added:
Some great man must have forgotten to say
Life is a story of linking and mingling.
Don’t we also feel, friend, that
Temples give to man
Freedom from fear.
When under the open sky we were alone
I said, as usual, amen.
All places of worship are not like this, you know?
Most of them are walled in and locked up
Thoughts and light and feelings will not enter.
Last week I went to a church.
When there was no Mass and no one inside or outside
How peaceful and how beautiful!
Even God may not like keeping away.
Peaceful like a church without festival.
I wonder whether I can speak like this
Or ask like this.
It’s the same way poetry creates problems.
When something is said it may be considered
Post-modern to question or suspect the manner of saying.
Yet, can’t you be a little more simple, friend?
Okay, okay. You know that when you say so
I wonder – Can I be anything but simple?
Or don’t you know?
You took me to your village.
`This is my village,’ you said.
`No this is my village.’ I replied.
In anger you got into a boat.
I came as an oar and took you far.
You rose to the sky as a cloud.
I became a lightning and tickled you.
You turned into raindrops and got scattered on the ground.
I changed into the dampness of the earth.
We played hopscotch in the courtyard,
And became paintings in your study.
Now when you go to your village,
You should meditate for some time
In the fragrant chamber of your memory.
A river, a river bank and some men. Take this picture with you.
To villages unlike this
Take along these village memories as well.
The wheel turns,
The wheel rotates all.
That which doesn’t
Is no wheel at all.
The wheel will rotate,
Forward and backward.
Impossible even for
The nine planets or constellations
To escape this rotation.
You and I, friend, live
In this rotation.
All that happens is the rotation
Of the wheel.
It is not something
Decided by you or me.
You and I are people who are
Grow up somewhere,
And are destined to fall down somewhere.
A slight drizzle
The touch of a peacock feather
The shadow of a rainbow
A slice of moonlight
A play of the eyes.
Over. The wheel stops rotating.
Consider this as our auspicious moment.
Don’t waste it.
Don’t share it with anyone.
Mind and body will not always
Soft and fleshy.
Look, as we say this, that meteor
Has flown, foamed and burnt out.
We too are like that.
Today my chest is very warm.
Want to feel it by hand?
Don’t think otherwise.
When your hand touches it
What a relief I have!
First I came to know your touch only.
Did I come to know your odour.
It intoxicated me greatly then.
I had inhaled all of it.
It was after this
That I tasted the sweetness of grapes.
How I wished you were just a tongue.
How I wished you were just two ears.
After all the five senses are sated
What still remains is love, isn’t it?
Why should there be teeth if not
For biting off the black mark on the lip?
You once asked.
I We need all of them, friend.
We will knew the need
Only when we do not have it.
Will he glad to get
Whatever is available.
As long as we are alive we should
Not squander away this happiness.
If lost where will we get it from?
The thithiri birds warbled wild:
Father and mother are not one, not two,
Teacher and the taught are not one, but one,
Husband and lover are not one, but two
What the husband gives cannot be got from the lover.
What is got from the lover, the husband will not give.
Can’t the two be one? The two be one?
The thithiris called out loud:
We don’t have such distinctions.
What is it, Upanishads, birds?
How do you know the truth?
The birds again sang and danced and said:
There is someone who knows the truth.
Who is he? Tell me, birds,
You tiny thithiris.
The one who knows the truth is your friend.
Go and ask him.
Chirping and chirping
The thithiri birds flew away.
To know the truth I called my friend
And asked: Is what the birds sang true?
You may tell me in the ear. Others need not hear.
How do I know what you do not know?
The friend’s counter-question.
What could be its answer?
SOUTH AND NORTH
Why are we quarrelling with them?
They are going this way. We too are going.
The pathway is for everyone. Right?
They are going east.
We are going west.
What is meant By this east and west?
Is there any east and west in reality?
It is true that they are not going
To the place we are going to.
Whether it is to the east or west
What matters is that we are going together,
Is it not, friend?
Aren’t this south and north only what we imagine?
You may be from the south.
I am a woman from the north.
But when we come together
This south and north will disappear.
So let us start walking.
You may hold a hand.
THE HONEY AND THE FLOWER
What I was saying was
About drinking nectar.
Flowers blossom and wither away.
But the nectar lasts for ever.
So we think.
So we hope.
The colour of the flower will fade
The fragrance will vanish.
The soft petals
And dry and crinkle.
Yet, the memory of its fragrance
Will not fade away,
Will not rot.
It will keep
Its nectar for ever.
Even after the flower falls
The sweetness of the nectar will remain.
Its love pollen will in
Sow new seeds.
New trees will grow.
Flowers do not die.
They will rise again and again
In the minds of those who
Knew their colour and fragrance.
Flowers don’t fall.
If one falls another blossoms.
The sweetness of the honey
Does not go away, is not forgotten.
In the memory of those who know it
Flowers blossom forever.
Time has put me on an island.
Today I am all alone.
Even you will not be able to come in,
Breaking my heavy solitude.
Yet you must come,
Like slipping down from a height.
Where are you?
Let me hear at least your voice.
Extend that hand.
Let me feel at least a touch.
Can you see me straight
At the eye-level?
Friend, I need
Your blessing, your presence,
Now more than ever before.
I feel I am turning into
An isolated island.
As though caught
In the current of silence.
Please call me.
Call out my name aloud
My ears are longing to
Hear your call.
Behind the door a shadow moves.
Who is that?
Tell your name. Or else..
Bright sunshine outside.
A clear day.
Yet who is there at the door?
Shadow, you tell me….
Don’t try to frighten me.
I am not afraid of anyone.
Not even myself.
Below the door sunshine and shadow
Roll over in an embrace.
What sort of love- making is it? What a shame!
I don’t want it at my door step.
If I come there, your….
But I did not get up from the cot.
What if it is a terrorist?
Better ring up my friend.
Mentioned only yesterday that I was afraid.
But the man at the doorstep should not know it.
My friend says I am a courageous girl.
Yet, I would rather make a call.
Not a sound is heard.
Not without reason.
Started talking without dialling.
What is the number? Forgot it?
While dialling, did I hear a sound at the door ?
The sunshine has gone. The shadow too.
The phone is ringing. Let me answer. Hello..
Yes. Yes. I read the poem.
If you ask so…
Not really. Only saw it.
Where did you see it?
I don’t remember.
Are you sure you saw it?
You say you think you saw.
If you ask like this it will be difficult.
What is this… None of them see it
Even if they see, do not read it
Even if they read, do not give an opinion.
Should tell my friend all this.
You told me once about going
Swimming in the Atlantic ocean.
You said it was so cold, you got back to the land
Before your legs developed cramps.
You also mentioned organizing a yoga programme
And doing exercises with a Jewish friend,
And about your failed attempt to eat
Fish pickles at his house.
But aren’t there things you have not mentioned?
You did not mention the foam rose
And fell with the waves of the Atlantic,
Or the oily drowsiness of the limb-numbing cold of the sea.
Nor did you mention the umbrella you gave free
To your Jewish friend on parting,
Or how you remembered Talmud, Kabala and Torah
In the smell of his fish pickles.
I know there may be many more things
You have not said. I will say what you haven’t.
The way once you slipped and nearly fell
On the hard icy ground,
Feigned sleep at another
When you thought your heart had stopped
Or felt giddy while reading in the library,
You never mentioned details of your illness to me
Though I always told you about my illnesses and well being.
Do you know why? You know it even when you say you don’t.
To chatter incessantly is itself proof of life.
For mutual friendship what other evidence do we need?
Seeing the forest in bloom
I walked through it one day.
The birds swinging from tender, drooping
Branches all turned to leaves.
With the glory of the green canopy
The entire sky turned green.
In branch and twig of every tree
An exciting range of green.
Flowers blossomed, wafting nectar-scent
The forest in greenness stood drenched.
The green memories of forest fruits
Spread in the hills like an old song.
A flash of green in the corner of the eye
Of memories flowing like a mountain brook.
Creeping creatures put on garments green
And sang in praise of pathways then.
The rainwater came dancing in
And gave a newness to the green.
Night or day, no one could say
Both sported a similar green.
With only a single hue on earth
Even the plaint of sea was green.
Love, desire, hate and jealousy –
Their dress had all a dash of green.
Compassion, humour, anger and courage
Were all the varied forms of green.
The mountain peak turned green
The deep blue sea became green
The lover and his lass were green
Their poetry and pangs grew green.
What next? No colour difference any more.
All colours have turned green.
Green has also become green.
A tinge of green
Even in the greenish laughter of the green man
From the green estuary, who is wont
To masticate the green water.
Only in the end I learnt
The greens transformed into many colours.
One green became golden, another blue, then yellow,
Black and red.
I directly enquired.
A friend said — in reality all are different colours
And only he felt they were all green.
I was walking through the woods
A snake coiled around the leg.
Thinking it was some vine, tried
To shake it off, still walking.
But felt the coil tighten around the leg.
Might not be a snake. Doesn’t it have any other work?
Perhaps it has coiled taking me to be a tree.
Can’t blunders happen to snakes also?
Not wrong to take for a walking tree,
I am wooden, and do walk a little,
Like those who go for morning walks in the evening.
But doesn’t the snake have to go to office?
Check the internet and e-mail? Sign?
May be it’s an unemployed snake.
But are there snakes bad enough to hold my leg?
Tell me what you want.
Why are you climbing up?
I can hear you if you speak from down below.
I know the language of snakes.
`Dance O snake, Play on O snake
Tell me what you want, O snake.’
The snake is silent. It continues to come up.
Who are you, snake? Are you my friend?
If so, do come. Climb as far as possible.
I will welcome you.
You know the way up? Don’t go astray.
Come. Come through the right path. Throwing kisses all around.
Are you life or death? Or are you both?
How long have I been waiting for you.
Thought you might come today or tomorrow, friend.
When we are born, a friend is also born with us.
The meeting may take place much later.
And I knew you would be coming.
But does it require the incarnation of a snake?
When relationships snap again
I return to you.
Knowing there is no return
Returns may all be just beginnings.
When darkness creeps into the eyes
I search for you alone.
The question here is not of return,
But of retrieval.
Retrieving all that is lost
Is onward journey indeed.
Whatever dripped from the finger tips,
Whatever dropped from between the fingers,
Whatever slipped out of hand, all
All have to be regained.
Great enterprises are all
Poems of retrieval.
A worm was crawling on the ground.
What a pity! I said
Stop, I will come with you.
The worm asked:
Are you a worm?
I am not so fortunate.
The condition is far worse now, sir.
Then the worm said:
In that case you may also come.
As we moved on
We saw a flower on the way.
The worm went in and disappeared.
I was uneasy.
Slowly started to gnaw at
The petals of the flower.
When the petals were eaten
The worm was inside me.
How is it now?
The worm said:
Right. You got me inside.
Now you do whatever I tell you.
Thus I became a real worm.
It was much later that you came this way.
When you touched me I turned into a butterfly.
Look, how beautiful my wings are!
If I sit on a flower
I will look like a flower.
It was you who made me beautiful, friend.
Closing down the vine huts,
Wild jasmines all flew away.
Yet from their memories we heard
A throbbing like this.
Isn’t that flower beautiful?
From its blossomed petals
Colour is oozing down,
The pollens smile from its stamen.
In its lap a faint fragrance of nectar.
On the tip of the tongue a light sweetness.
Why, flower, are you dripping colour like this?
Flashing this smile?
Shining this softness?
Spreading this fragrance?
Moreover, why the crystallising
Of the colour, fragrance and sweetness of nectar.
Were you a flower in your last birth too?
More than the leaves,
And ripe fruits
Did you like to be a flower?
Come, friend, look at this flower.
Is it its colour, softness, fragrance
Or sweetness that you like more?
Tell me in the face.
Don’t be shy. Don’t try to tell a lie.
I can understand it from your eyes.
In the damp moonlight each of
The candle lights slowly went off.
Forgot the songs heard earlier, but
Heard those unheard till then.
The flowerless tree
Has tender shoots,
The fruitless tree
Has a green forest
In its head and trunk,
The tree that refuses fruit
Has garlands of flowers
Swaying this way and that.
This earth likes flowers.
Not only leaf flower and petal flower,
When an entire tree stands like a single flower,
When that flower is full of nectar and fragrance,
It is difficult to find a place to cry.
Flowers don’t cry
However, somewhere, somehow
A dampness spreads.
Those who like flowers should not cry!
In those times when I asked you
If you would write about me
You never did.
I felt deeply hurt then.
But is it not usual for purusha to ignore
The hurt feelings of prakriti?
Now you write about me only
When I think of the many
Golden threads that link you and me,
My old complaints turn sweet and tender.
In how many notes of music you link
And what powerful music you conjure
From your bansuri!
The dreamland you decked long ago
For the daughter of the snow
Is now shared by you and me.
Even in your teens you wove
Dreams about Rajput beauties,
And even before you saw her
You sang songs for her.
You saw prakriti in different costumes.
Do you know what I got
From the meditation all these years?
You gave my self to me.
I was an orphan girl,
No one had claims on me,
Was even called a bad omen
By the members of the household.
You showed me the me in myself
Friend, you are my mirror, my image
I see you as myself
Someone asks if prakriti and purusha
Aren’t one and the same.
Why should I hesitate to say
`If I have a dream, it is you?’
The sun that says so to the protean ocean
Has melted in the sea.
The cloud that says so to the rainbow
Has fallen as rain, along with the rainbow.
The storks on the river bank say so
Swallowing the gasping fish.
The deer and the doe say so when
Shifted from one zoo to another.
And the man taking his last breath says so
Bidding farewell to the earth,
Why should I hesitate to say
`If I have a dream, it is you?’
AND THE MOONLIGHT
Not the peacock
Or the moonlight alone
That is beautiful.
There is beauty
Even in starvation
And hunger, remember.
Or tenderness alone
That is sweet.
There is sweetness
Even in pain
And the pangs of separation.
Or you alone
That form life.
All of us
And those outside, remember.
But, for us, who is there
Other than ourselves?
THE TREE CLIMBER
`Why are you sitting on this tree today, sir?
When I asked this in jest
He took it very seriously and shot back:
`Why, can’t I sit on a tree?
I know some people do not like me
Sitting here and enjoying the breeze.
All are jealous. ‘Kusumbu’ in English.’
`I did not mean that.
Don’t get agitated. Your B P may shoot up.
If you had to climb, should it be the branch of a tree?’
Sir is agitated, really agitated. He said:
`Then what? Should I climb on an elephant’s tusk?
If you want you too can come here.’
`No, sir, I don’t want to climb trees.
It is monkeys that sit on trees.
You, sir, you may continue to sit there.
After some time you will come down.’
Then our sir tucked his non- existent tail and jumped down.
Came near me and said:
`Without you why should I sit on the tree? Big deal!’
Then we sat down on the ground munching groundnut
And speaking of unknown things about Korea and Japan.
As night wore on, we said ‘Shouldn’t we sleep?’
And both went to sleep.
Where did I forget
Psychologists say the matters we forget
Are matters we do not like.
Perhaps they may not forget anything.
Forgetfulness gripped me as I was
Climbing over a high bridge.
Later forgot the fact that I had forgotten it.
If we always remember everything
How can forgetfulness come?
I never try to forget anything.
The fact is all of them forget me.
But I forget that fact also.
Friend, try to remember
All the good things we have forgotten.
I wonder how we were able to forget all of them.
I had decided not to work wonders.
I forgot that as well.
Once I wished I could forget something some day.
But I remember only the fact that I had forgotten it.
Is not life just a matter of memory?
And is not forgetfulness a kind of memory?
When I went to close the window at night
A spark. Then darkness.
It took some time to realise
It was a fire-fly,
Fire-fly that carries light and darkness
In its body itself.
What is its intention?
Why did it come to my window
Say something and wink at me.
In school I had a friend.
His eyes were always half-shut at least.
An extremely shy boy.
Occasionally the eye-lids would open fully.
Is it this boy who has now come to my house as a fire-fly.
Fully opening the half- shut eyes
And flashing a drop of light
To get inside.
Crossing childhood, teen-age and youth
Have you reached here, friend?
I never noticed you then.
Now seeing you at the window I remembered
My friendless childhood,
The arrogance of bouncing youth
And the widowhood that came subsequently.
Come, fire-fly, come into my room.
Sit on my bed. Wink your eyes again.
Spread your broken light in this small room,
In my mind as well.
THE BROKEN DREAM
Let me tell you the story of a broken dream.
We were in two rooms.
I woke up in the middle of sleep.
When I looked into your room
It was empty.
The easy chair, table, cot and all else
Were not to be seen.
Where did you go, friend?
Did you, with eyes welled up with tears, go
Where no eyes could reach?
I was filled with fear.
Was that you would never cease to be.
You are immortal.
I said I wanted three rooms.
A friendship room,
A quarrel room,
And a room without friendship or quarrel.
Mating is in the friendship room.
Friendships snap in the quarrel room.
Even at noon the mating time is dark.
You said poetry comes from the mating of minds.
So, friend, I feel that
We need one room only.
There will be one room only when two rooms merge.
Life does not mean mating alone.
For one more year
Give me my youth
Who is the master of all life on earth?
Let him bestow on me a new youthfulness.
I am not content yet with the flowers and fruits
That give sweetness to my zest and lust.
If not for one year, for one year more
Give me my sensual youth.
After that it is vanaprastha.
But till then let me have a fresh youthfulness.
It is not yet time to put out the fire in my gut,
So let it be a dam burst of resurgent youth.
Two eyes are eagerly waiting
To feast on the sight of my tender youth.
Two arms are stretched out for long to hold me tight
And stop the throbbing of my cool youth.
Two lips fill with the sweet fragrance of
The sensual carousel of heady youth
Who is the master of life on earth ? Let him
Change my term, re-kindle my passions,
Put a spark to the petard of my body, satiate
The hunger of this damp earth, and, then
If Death comes any day, let him come.
THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD
This world began
Not today or yesterday.
These hills and rocks came into being
Out of the congealment of
Passionate intoxication of
A billion years.
Then also this sunset
And sunrise had blossomed and withered.
When we sit on the beach
Do you know why the waves dance?
Because couples like this had come here and
Poured their enthusiasm into the sea,
To maintain the youthfulness of the sea.
Whenever I see the lash of the waves, friend,
I think of you alone.
I am a sea.
You can see and hear the surge of my waves.
Yet, do you know that
In my lower abdomen
A submarine fire is burning?
It’s time for the train to leave.
Heard the three whistles?
The signal lamp is being waved.
But my friend hasn’t come yet.
The ticket is with me.
Didn’t he hear me mentioning the time?
From which gate would he come?
It is time to get in.
But how can I go alone?
Has he forgotten that I mentioned ‘second a c?’
The guy is absent-minded nowadays.
Should I cancel the trip and return home?
Why should I go alone?
Okay. I will take the bag.
Hardly had I said so, saw him
At the door of the coach, waving his hand.
For a moment I couldn’t believe it.
I looked again, rubbing my eyes. Yes, it is he himself.
Just standing there and laughing. Rogue.
How did he sneak in there, hoodwinking me?
My God, how long have I been waiting here.
The train started to move the moment I managed to hop in.
Got saved because he caught hold of my hand and helped me in.
What is the game?
Came ahead of me?
Got in without ticket?
Okay. We will go to our seats. 11 and 12.
Both are lower berths. This side and that side.
Can be in one berth after nine.
But the TTE may come.
The others will go to the upper berths only later.
There may be acquaintances.
Is he not a friend of all?
Anyway, will keep quiet for some time
When the train picks up speed will sit next to him.
How long have I been hoping for such a trip?
Anyway, I will sit by the window.
Let him sit on the opposite side.
So much to tell him. My heart is beating fast.
Sure there won’t be any sleep tonight.
News of death fill up
The number and size of speeches
continually go up.
The ears are rendered useless
The eyes turn blind seeing
The endless hardships.
When will I get back
My ears, eyes and mind?
Tell me, friend,
Aren’t you omniscient?
Agreed that it is not yet time to bid farewell.
Who should bid farewell to whom?
Will friend bid farewell to a friend?
Is it possible? Any time?
Then who bids farewell’? Who should?
To people who wronged us, cheated us.
Were ungrateful to us.
Can they be pardoned?
Shouldn’t a mistake happen only once in life?
It is to wrong that we can bid farewell.
When bidding farewell our face should be calm.
The body should not shake.
The face should not contort.
The voice should not falter.
Black hair shouldn’t turn grey.
Grey hair shouldn’t fall.
When bidding farewell one should be in full youth.
What are the words to be said.
Is it ‘Will meet again.’
Or ‘Don’t come here again’.
Farewell for what purpose, did you say?
Have you forgotten those who held discussions on this issue
And then forgot to bid farewell?
Why should there be farewell at all?
No one is leaving anyone.
Who knows whom, and to what extent?
If not leaving, then why any leave taking?
But this is all a ceremony, friend.
Bidding farewell is interesting.
That is a ritual
That brings peace to the mind.
If done in advance there won’t be any complaint
That we forgot to do so at the proper time.
Now, we can bid farewell to each other.
Or to this earth, or to the day’s sun.
After saying all this it will look bad if we do not bid farewell.
The sea is calm today.
The waves have gone for a joint slumber.
The wind has gone elsewhere to roost.
The sky is vacant.
The stars are yet to shine,
As though some programme has been postponed.
How difficult was it
To find you six months ago.
Now you are my slave.
To make you dance to my tune.
You are not the one who forgets
All after getting what you want.
Speak just once and
You are satisfied.
Call you ever so softly
And you will fall in faint.
That only made me weary.
Calm as the sea.
Not hearing the beat of the waves.
Are you not the vacant sky as well?
Yesterday you were a stone.
Though wind and storm blew
You did not move.
I do remember
Seeing you flying up into the sky
Cooing like a dove,
Trying to peck and eat the sounds that
You yourself let out.
Making a wedge in the blue sky
And through it disappearing with me
To a transcendental world.
I do remember
You carrying me,
Like a snake that coils around the body,
Slithering down to a hole in this beautiful earth,
Singing a lullaby to give me
A balmy sleep in the oily darkness of the night.
You are not a stone.
You should not become one.
You are energy, you are the source,
An ever flowing river of song.
The sun has gone down into the sea.
My mind also has calmed down.
Now I have nothing to get
A handful of earth that was begged from
This dark world,
The slice of a soft mind
That was lacerated by a smile.
Other than that what is there to get?
There is nothing to be given to anyone either.
Crossing these stinking pathways, friend,
Let us leave the place.
The day when sun rose in the west.
Day time arrived after dusk.
Swallowed up the darkness.
Black was unseen even in the eyes of girls.
Later when night came at dawn
Sun got ready to set.
But how hesitant was he!
Yet what a darkness!
It was difficult to see even
A speck of white.
Black foam of waves
Trees lay down to sleep,
Wind moved about on stilts.
Why were you late in coming, friend?
I fell asleep waiting for you.
Even when you came and embraced me I couldn’t get up.
Wake me up, friend.
Two dream killers
Entered my room .
I was reading or writing.
Wasn’t the door locked?
Must have opened somehow.
Or would they have opened it?
With ice cold hands.
They touched me.
Hands made of ice.
I was shocked.
Did the brain stop working?
Felt the whole body getting frozen.
The joints unable to move.
Consciousness must have gone.
No, I shook myself awake.
Strained to open the eyelids.
The dream-killers melted like snow.
When I rose and looked around
They were not to be seen.
Yet, what am Ito tell my friend?
Is he awake?
Try calling him.
It is past one in the night.
But he had called me at odd hours.
If I tell him
He will catch the dream-killers and bring them here.
After all, dreams belong to him.
Can’t you write as a poem
Whatever you speak of me?
When the symbol itself becomes symbolic
It will not be possible to assert this is that.
Only we will understand, but
Sometimes even we may not understand.
See, whatever you say are my words.
Since your poems are my soliloquies—
It must be so—What is heard from one person
Are the soliloquies of many.
Shouldn’t we call it our conversation
Rather than our poem?
Good poetry is conversation.
Sometimes only one person speaks.
That is the enduring characteristic of poetry.
So write on, tomorrow also.
Translated from Malayalam by Ravindran Nayar
RAVINDRAN NAYAR. Retired as Bureau Chief, UNI, Thiruvananthapuram and Regional Manager, UNI, Chennai. Interested in literature and translation.