Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry II


In Which A Small Gesture Becomes Epic

I have a husband.
Actually I have five.
It so happened that,
One of them
Strung a bow, and shot a fish,
Swimming on a tree
Through its eye.
He didn't look at all.
Except in a pool that shimmered.
They took me home.
A hovel for a princess.
I said nothing.
For love is like that.
It makes idiots of us women,
And I was just a girl.

Tall, strong,
Seeds brimming their sacs.
But such mother's boys through and through.
She had trained them well.
To heed and never proceed,
Until she said so. Bloody cow!
She sat within, their mother,
What secrets thoughts?
What hidden truths?
What furrowed her brow?
Divide it between all of you,
She said as if I were an effing hen!
Wings for one, breast for another,
Legs for one, neck for the other,
And a wishbone to tug on.

I have a husband.
Actually five.
But all of this you already know.
But now that,
I am to be stripped bare,
Let me tell you,
About them and men.
For you can't not,
Understand men a little,
When you have had five to handle.
No, don't glare at me,
You bloody cow.
This is some of your doing.
You brought up good sons,
But not necessarily good men.

As for you, Dushasana, you mega moron,
Let me save you the trouble.
Let me peel away these layers on my own.
This one is Yudhisthira.
The wise one. Son of Dharma.
Untainted, uncorrupt, forever right.
The gentle tyrant rapping my knuckles:
Draupadi this doesn't befit you.
A father teaching me how to be.
You look away now, you coward.
You do not want to get involved.
Righteousness  made you smug.
Righteousness makes you effing selfish.
I still have four husbands.
Which one of you will be there for me?

Bheema, son of Vayu
The wolf-bellied wielder of the mace.
You were the bumbling brother,
Seeking to protect me from bee and behemoth.
Yearning to fulfil my whimsies.
I see you wanting to rush to me.
I see Dharma lay his hand on your knee.
I see you second husband fall back.
Arjuna, my Arjuna
Son of Indra, my god among men.
Lover who feasted on my lips.
You were the nectar I would
never tire of.
You won my hand, and now
You forsake me with equal effortless ease.
So I am now left with two husbands.

Nakula, my radiant dark husband.
More handsome than any man living.
Horse whisperer, tender lover.
The younger man who made me laugh.
In you, I saw the bloom of a toyboy,
All muscles, testosterone and charm
But where are you now Nakula?
Or your twin Sahadeva?
The all knowing but bashful one.
So much a child who needed me,
To show him how to be a man.
When you ate your father's flesh you knew,
And yet you allowed this to happen.
That I cannot forgive, Sahadeva.
So here I stand:

Shorn of husbands and all I was
My name is Yagnaseni
I was born of fire
Your scorching gaze doesn't shame me.
With the blue lotus
My fragrance is freedom
You can smell a Yojana away.
I was Krishna's Sakhi
But even that epithet I forsake
For I cannot be what you want me to be anymore.
I open my hair so you know.
I erase the marks, so you know,
That I am a woman first.
A woman through and through.
And everything only thereafter.

How Men Eat

I watch men eat;
The opening of the mouth,
The curling of the tongue,
The pouching of the cheek.
I watch how they slice and spear,
How they chew and swallow.
I watch how men
Forget to pretend
With food on their plate.
All I need to know about a man,
I find as he eats.

Watch the man who picks
At his food as if it were ridden
With hundreds and thousands
Of rapacious weevils.
Each seeking to chew into him.
Daubing and probing,
He litters the rim with suspicion.
This is one you could befriend,
But must never love.
For fear holds him back. In life,
there is none more important than him.

The man there who shovels in
With gusto and relish
Each mouthful of what you lay before him.
Life to him is a marrow bone,
To suck and suck.
Till dark flesh slides down his throat.
Keep him only for a while.
For even as he glows with all he devours,
Soon he will pick  every shred
Of your life and thought,
Licking you clean of your very being.

Now of this one be wary.
He eats as if to eat
Is an act of faith.
Yet the plate is wiped clean.
Now watch as he trashes -
The cook, the cauldron and the stove.
Malcontent and miserable,
The food is ashes in his belly.
Everything to him is an affront,
A failure to measure up.
And so will you. Eventually.

There is the careful eater.
Taking only as much,
As he knows is possible.
Nibbling, savouring, never rushing.
The deliberate boy,
Who arranges his plate,
As if it were his tomorrow.
Everything in its place.
Marry him to your daughter.
For he will love as he eats.
Carefully. But for yourself, is that what you want?

Often I would wonder,
If there would ever be one
In whom  lives a hunger?
To know food as more than food.
So each meal is for him,
As it is to me:
The last meal on earth.
To savour and relish.
Would there be such a one?
With an insatiable appetite?
For love? For life? For more than what we can see.

Wait, I see a man there.
Whose hand seeks his mouth,
With no thought, no joy.
Just another thing to do.
What monsters lurk within?
What bleakness blear the edges?
Then I see him reach
For a plump purple fig.
I see the mask of indifference split.
I see the hunger for the sap, the flesh.
The yearning to feast on all there is.

What makes him hide
His hunger for what could be his?
Is it food he fears
Or is it what love could be?
I see then the furtive greedy grasp.
The northern lights of desire.
The fig sets ablaze in him.
I could teach him to eat.
As to love I think.
He will teach me to see, I think.
He will teach me to be, I think.