Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry

Hoshang Merchant

My Sister Takes a Long Long Time to Die

It was the dark of winter
When the illness came like a thunderclap
They isolated an Indian girl in the Chicago snow
Hoping this Indian disease would go away
But it was America that had killed her
The sickness in us is named America
And the long long time of waiting does not die.

She had waited long in the dark of her lord
The lord she called father who never had a kind word
The lord who giveth and taketh away
(And now is the time of taking away)
The man she calls lord and manservant
The lover with fair hair and blue eyes
Who ferries her hither and thither like Charon.

My sister, she hangs by our slender thread that cannot snap
Because the long long time of waiting is never dead.

And she called Death as her brother
Brilliant, charismatic death
Death who loves and beguiles and kills
		but does not beget
Death the brother who no sister in life can wed
That unfulfilled love, that great longing that does not die
That long long time of waiting never dies.

And now in the brilliance of summer
of melting light and butterflies
She floats between dark and light
As on a river a swan doubly glides 
One half flesh; one half shadow
Sister and brother / Reality and reflection on one river.

She has crossed life's flood on a reed
She awaits a boat now to ferry her to the other side
The long long wait she waits for all of us will never die...

Ashes of Gandhi

(for Ismat Mehdi)


Young man, in that May when to err meant
one was still alive, in that Indian May
which at least gave life fire
		(adapted from Pasolini, "Ashes of Gramsci")

It isn't May-like, this impure air
which darkens the foreigners' dark
garden still more, then dazzles it

With blinding sunlight...this foam-
streaked sky above the other roof
terraces which in vast semicircles veil

the Mediterranean's curve and Liguria's cobalt
mountains...Inside the ancient walls
the autumnal October diffuses a deathly

peace, disquieting like our destinies,
and holds the world's dismay,
The finish of the decade that saw

the profound naïve struggle to make
life over collapse in ruins;
silence, humid, fruitless...

you, Father of the Nation, take me by your
thin hand, trembling like a brother-ascetic
sex-denying (dead, dead like us in this garden)

Belonging to the nation and belonging
to no one. The nation too belonging 
to no one - Despoiled

by the rich. And I reach out in the fetid Indian summer
from Pali Hill to the dirty tenements of Bombay
along the Parel rail tracks

sad in their squalor yet
alive with their Alexandrian sex
And hear the tintinnabulation 

of the workshops of Trastevere
and Konya. The eye is attuned
to filth, the ear to music 

As on your grave waves a strand
of sad homespun, left there
by some Italian virgin who became

an Indian widow: you take all
with you, the Hindu, as the dust stirs 
amid the first big raindrops

on dry, dry earth: My Arabian Nights dreams!
Icarus could fall into the Tyherrian Sea
Tonight; Indra descend again to walk 

among the common folk
who dose like the autowallah
with swollen sex in his auto-rickshaw...

Morning is far away: With its salt-taste of defeated sex
And with the sad frenzy of orgasmic
animals who only know daily work

The workmen sleep on pavements
And the schismatics sharpen their knives
to cut again an already cut nation

As you sleep, you must know how
I loathe the bourgeois bomb I sing to
who stare and stare at me

As I sing, one of them, their history:
As one who knows them only too well
And you, your ashes I approach

Between hope and distrust
Where the vast river melts into the sky
And crying out: Shelley!
And with patrician grace you sing:
			Lead kindly light....

One by one the lights go on
the green dome first lit 		Lit my Parsi dread
we are in Harun-al-Rashid's Baghdad

And then with Damascene grace
which is not obscene, the young louts
plan night adventures conscienceless 

as only the young can be. The neem weeps:
Everything is enveloped in the stench
of your blood and of poverty

(Epilogue from Pasolini)

'And I, who can only live in history,
Will I ever again be able to act with pure passion
When I know our history is over?'

Scent of Love

It is raining a small rain
A gentle rain over all the world
Gentle like that love which is so hard
to sustain or to receive or to reciprocate
Because men are greedy: They bite and tear

You from the mountains        I from the plains
I from the city        You from the forest
I a hunter        And you a deer
The city is full of the smell of my dear today

The musk mingles with the rain
Its scent spreads
This morning I lie in bed dreaming of you
I was to be hunter but I'm an inert deer

Sensing danger you wait
And I sense danger with you
Why is the world so crazed for venison?
I wonder at a living creature
Who must so eat a living creature!

And suddenly the wounded doe dies for you
She has dragged herself to you to die before you
Her stag
Did she not stay one night inert
When you slew her in bed
Just as tonight I wish to slay you?

Does not our passion only bring suffering
And do we all not die daily a little
Satisfying our longings?
Play go play though your scent drives me wild
And I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing

Slay or be slain
And your hand will not be cleansed of blood ever again
The pain the pain of love is everywhere
And the scent of this musk cannot be washed even in a rain.