The Carpenter’s Daughter

I bow to that magnificent spirit

Which carved

A thousand temple towers

As I leave

With a box of chisels and a measuring rod

I will not be a prey to that broad chisel

From the time I remember

My mind, robbed of speech

Sprouted under my father’s austere routine

What fun I had,

Playing with the scattered wood shavings

Joining them and making forests out of them.

The drop of water spawned by the blue black clouds

The tree lying hidden in the seed planted in the muddy earth

Thousands of stars joining to give light and life to the whole universe

That is how a sculptor’s spark of fire entered and burnt my insides.

Sometimes, while he worked

He recited verses for us, from the book on architecture

We listened, me and my brother, sitting on his right and left,

Words conjuring,

rope tricks –

judgement of directions –

earth traits –

measurement through folding fingers –

We learnt from father, the principles of architecture

from carving the figure of the deity to

building temple performance halls, often joining the two,

Bhaskara’s Mathematics and Maya’ s aesthetics

Yes, I listened and learnt it all

Together with my brother

At times, the great man would say,

Erudition is not enough,

Knowledge should be practical

The greatness of human beings lies

I in igniting

life in scientific truths

As they were made, those wooden lotuses

I watched, a close witness to that creation of beauty

In the centre, clusters of humming bumble bees too were carved

But, did I or anyone else grasp the intricate inner mechanism?

So many wonderful tricks,

A door which at the touch of a finger on the left hand corner

Opened into an underground cavern

The sixth square, which caved in at the pressure of a foot

And sank into a sea of water;

The miniature coconut, on which I carved a black eye

Making a doll to play with

In the midst of all this, my left eye saw

In that unmoving eye, the glow of an inner eye

Those cloistered rooms, in many places, this and beyond

The pillars supporting the face of hope,

Inside the pillars, several alert Narasimha deities

Shining like a hundred thousand suns,

The shape cannot be described as a circle, a square or even a definite angle

yet, it contained all these, giving a new look to the lake that disorients

even the practised defenders of the eight directions

the trick by the doll on the bridge,

the steps shaped like musical instruments

leading to the dome of the sanctum sanctorum,

Words to Agnihotri that to the mind, the concept of the single chosen deity

Is like the eight times churned holy gum used to fix idols

I of all that al. I till n around and stand for a while

The past is like the fields covered by the moonlight

In their banks stands a blooming Pala tree

Like the ghost of a beloved person;

I can’t bear its fragrance

A person, who from the day of birth grew along with me,

A person, who rubbed the smoke black

When I hurt my knee and cried aloud

A loving person, who made swings

And pushed them for me

The day I became a big girl, he declared

It is time to request Devendra to tie the tali

around the neck of my very own sister”

then he picked a fine piece of sandalwood and carved

a fu

My elder brother believed that all trees were

Unmade idols of Gods

The childless divine beings came to him in his sleep and pleaded:

“Make us into idols”.

With a desire to better his work, I heaped on him

Only the sting of my criticism

My brother’s sole response was always,

An enigmatic half smile.

One day, he who knew the craft

Was carving a stone idol of Mother Goddess

When I said in mock fun: –

“It is a pity that you make idols

the same way that father does”.

Then I looked deep into the smooth – lashed eyes

of my brother, a pensive man

to whom anger was unknown,

and continued

“Staying in the shade of a huge tree

you cannot grow your nourishment comes from seeking sunlight,

by yourself, unaided”

But, he, a satwika, did not agree.

Seeing the Lord of the eighth square in the ninth place

As the Lord of Birth

The astrologer predicted it was a horoscope of loss and untimely death

But, my elder brother, devoted to father,

Followed him like a shadow, wherever he went

Unsuspecting disciple, he wore on his face, his usual smile,

Filled with the sheen of purified gold,

Even as he lay with his throat severed

Even now, the hungry, inauspicious death

Lies under my feet in the form of a serpent

The broad chisel, darkened by blood stains

May slip and fall on my sleeping mat too.

I cannot, like a Rajput, turn mad and die

In the war field of revenge

For, I believe that insulting elders is a great sin

Moreover, if that consciousness which carves

The wonders of the world slips again

Who is there to question it

Who is fearless enough to face the elephant in rut and chain it

Brother, it is not possible for me

To offer as tribute to you.

I sat alone in my own space, accepting in my heart

The weight of a stone chisel

Striking on the black and white stones I

began to learn the facts of life

The turning chisel turned and did what I wanted

The small chisel, softened by ghee, submitted to my will

The; foot rider and the measuring rod, in these female hands

Were tame as petted and pampered cows

Father’s craft in chiseling thick tree trunks

Into thin slabs of wood

That I took over to steer my thoughts

In making boats, to conquer the wild seas

Outside my closed and bolted doors

Day and night, summer and monsoon came

I sat inside the ant-hill

Looking deep into myself.

Those who grieve, those that smile,

Those who fear, those that are peaceful,

The group of Devas, Kinnaras, and Yakshas,

The King of Demons, playing Rudraveena,

Sukra, the Master of Demonology,

Who keeps a pot of wine next to him

Accursed Yayati, Ahalya who looked at Indra with desire,

Bhishma, who had to lie on a bed of arrows

For supporting the wrong side. out of the marrow of the trees, I chiseled all of them

Into expressive shapes

Why did the sunlight falling on the half closed door

Grow dim once in a while

Did the shadow of a magnificent figure shut the light out

Just a glance and then it moves off.

What k ire the mind?

To kill or to nurture,

As the sight of a provoked tiger

In the heart of the forest, fright and adoration flare up

Though I do not believe in people’s gossip

The image of a broad chisel stained with blood clots

Moves in the air

And it is enough to disturb my concentration

Even when I struggle to carve the dragon’s protruding tooth

I have to carve many emotions —

Contempt, wonder, compassion and control

Carve I must, arrogance and competition,

The forest fire of jealousy that blazes

Carve I must, the desire which comes in disguise

Riding the Pushpaka plane

In the dreams. the demon king, Maya,

Who created the three cities in gold, silver and iron,

The meeting hall of

the Devas. And the Palace of the Pandavas

Says: –

Break the bondage of the silken thread,

go away,

as the moonlight falls on the window

lift up your toolbox and leave this house”

Every night I pondered like a coward,

To flee in fear is not easy

The face that has to confront life should not be scared

So, I have to bid goodbye properly

This morning, while father prayed, having dipped in

The early morning purity I went to him and said: –

Today is Saptami, the seventh day,

It is good to start a journey

If I can have your blessings with me”

He, the creator, woke up and his deep voice fell on top of my head


But, wherever you go, remember,

The name that lasts rests on your fingertips”

True, what else can a father, who with a slip of a finger

Tarnished his reputation wish for his daughter

This toolbox weighs more with the weight of the journey

I do not have any disciples, followers or friends

To join me in my journey

Not is there a cluster of people to praise my sculpting skills

The forest, the domain of the single elephant

Will be my world front now on

The only light will come from Arundhati,

The female star in the Seven Sages Star Unit

As the benign and the malignant planets

Continue their cyclical movements in their orbits

I too start my journey, carrying the chisel box and the measuring rod,

I will not be a prey to the broad chisel.

Earlier, Viswakarmapralapaft,

The master sculptor of the Devas,

Gave his daughter, Samjna in marriage

To the Sun-God

Later, when the Sun’s heat of passion

Turned into an arrow of fire burning her insides,

She conveyed her grief to her father

The skill of his hands tamed the

Sun As a stone is softened on the grinding stone

Will the hands of that untiring divine sculptor

Filled with love and tenderness, falter?

If so, I shall let go my meagre sculpting skills

In the blood spilt as the head is severed

By the gifted weapon that falls in a straight line

From the master sculptor’s ever alert hands

The Banyan tree with roots above and branches below

May give protection even to the smallest atom

It was my grandfather who said

That the God who gave a mouth

Would provide food also

So, let me go with my chisel box and measuring rod

I will not be a prey to the broad chisel

Translated by Vasanti Sankaranaravanan from Malayalam

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