Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry

K. Satchidanandan


I am a half-burnt poem .
Yes, you guessed right, 
a girl's love poem.

Girls' love poems have 
Seldom escaped fire:
father's fire, brother's fire,
even mother's, an heirloom. 

Only some girls half-escape: 
those half-charred ones
we call Sylvia Plath, 
Anna Akhmatova 
or Kamala Das. 

Some girls, to escape fire,
hide their desire 
under the veil of piety:
thus is born a Meera,
an Andal, a Mahadevi Akka. 

Every nun is a burnt 
love-poem, addressed to
the ever-young Jesus. 

Rarely, very rarely, 
one girl learns to 
laugh at the world
with that tender affection 
only women are capable of.
Then the world  names her 
Wislawa Szymborska.

Of course , Sappho: 
she was saved only as 
her love poems were 
addressed to women. 

(Translated from Malayalam by the poet)


Old women do not fly on magic wands
or make obscure prophecies
from ominous forests.
They just sit on vacant park benches 
in the quiet evenings
calling doves by their names
charming them with grains of maize.

Or, trembling like waves 
they stand in endless queues in
government hospitals
or settle like sterile clouds
in post offices awaiting mail
from their sons abroad,
long ago dead.

They whisper like a drizzle
as they roam the streets
with a lost gaze as though
something they had thrown up 
had never returned to earth. 

They shiver like December nights 
in their dreamless sleep
on shop verandahs.

There are swings still
in their half-blind eyes,
lilies and Christmases 
in their failing memory.
There is one folktale
for each wrinkle on their skin.
Their drooping breasts
yet have milk enough to feed 
three generations 
who would never care for it.

All dawns pass
leaving them in the dark.
They do not fear death,
they died long ago.

Old women once
were continents.
They had deep woods in them,
lakes, mountains, volcanoes even,
even raging gulfs.
When the earth was in heat
they melted, shrank,
leaving only their maps.
You can fold them
and keep them handy :
who knows, they might help you find
your way home.

(Translated from the Malayalam by the poet)


Fox is my name.
Dying of cunning.
Trapped in my own tricks.
Not wanted by the woods 
nor the village.
Hunted down from 
sunlight to moonlight.

First I discovered fire.
That grew wild and 
burnt down the forest.
Then I invented the wheel.
That turned into tanks and
sowed death all over the earth.
Then I invented wings.
They turned into fighter-planes
and filled stars with darkness.
I invented war and spread 
hatred among friends.
I sold arms to kin so that 
they may  fight one other.
As they fell I came out
from behind flowers 
looking for blood.

Thickets no more hide me;
nor valleys provide shelter. 
Rivers refuse me water.
Sparrows nudge me and fly away.
Hares unite against me.
Forest-paths no more 
lead me to victory.
My howl of triumph
is now a suppressed sob.
With my power I can 
now punish only myself.

O, Bodhisattwa, 
once you took my form;
now teach me your simple ways.
Give my thoughts the voice of love.
Fill my begging bowl
with milk instead of blood.

Teach me, Bodhisattwa,
how to survive myself.

Translated from Malayalam by the poet.
The fox was one of the forms that Buddha (Bodhisattwa) had taken in his passage to salvation through several births.