Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry



This is how the shloka  goes -
    women, nails and hair
    once they've fallen
    	    just can't be put back
	said our Sanskrit teacher.

Frozen in place out of fear
we girls held on tight to our seats.
Place, what is this 'place'?
We were shown our place
in the first grade.
We remembered our elementary school lessons
	Ram, Go to school, son, 
	Radha, Go and cook!
	Ram, here is your candy, son, 
	Radha, bring your broom!
	Ram, bedtime, school tomorrow
	Radha, go and make the bed for brother.
	Aha!, this is our new house
	Look Ram!, here's your room
	   	                                         "and mine?"
	Oh, little loony!
	Girls are wind, the sun and the good earth	
	They have no homes
				              "those without a home,
		 			     where do they belong?"

Which is the place from where we fall,
become clipped nails,  fallen hair trapped in combs,
fit only to be swept away?
Houses left behind, paths left behind
people left behind
the questions chasing us,  too   left behind.
Leaving tradition behind,
now I feel I'm as out of context 
as a short line
from a great classic
scribbled on a BA examination paper.

(Translated from the original Hindi)


"Those who walk within confines are men,
those who walk beyond are saints."

No confines for me,   no confines
a closed fist is my boundary wall

I can go wherever I want
but in this man's pocket

I can connect to anyone anywhere
but always under his thumb.

Even when he's dead asleep
he'll tuck me under his pillow
listening to the tick tock tick of his wristwatch.
The whole night through 
quietly I'll keep all his messages
coming from all over the world.

Those silent messages will glow
in my dark spaces 
They'll glow like the cat's-eyes
of my  dream-memories:
   Mother's ailments
   filed court cases
   all the office scuffles
   all the rush of unfinished kisses 
   all the muffled calls
the faint quivers of many a held-in sob all flicker within me. 
In me flutter the wounded wings of messenger-pigeons  
each feather yanked out  and flicked off one by one
once in a while, even a pat on the wing.
No matter how modern the world may be
the expression of love and hate are primordial.

I'm like the roads of old Baghdad
before the American bombings
Parallel to the modern malls
are the old  souks  and  the meena bazaar
glittering inside me
like archeological ruins dotting the heart of the metro
But I don't want
somebody to sit down and
analyze me 
to pigeonhole me.
At long last, beyond all contexts  
it's been really hard

but I've gotten here.
Let me be hummed
like an abhang,
[Translation from Hindi by Arlene Zide and the poet]