Upon a Winter Morning’s Walk

A solitary crow alights upon
the half-torn branch of the broken tree;
cawing to a misted winter morning
blooming silently into its glory.

A rustle; the frightened crow flies off
the half-torn branch of the broken tree,
and its rising wing brushes a leaf
that does not know how tò be free.

The fallen leaf will wet and wither
beneath the winter’s sun and rain,
but that black crow that flies the skies
will never léarn what it has done.

But a little squirrel that saw it all
will plant a treasured nut when it is spring,
and a tree will open beautifully
with the leaf that fell from the crow’s black wing.


(written ca. early 2012)

For more about the poem, see notes.

Cryptic Conceit

The wounded angel on the koel’s wing’s
carrying the dregs of Shakuni’s spring;
spilling tears for the processing dead,
all reclining in the wake of the lead.
The soundless fall of the crashing tree,
a bed of arrows for a costly fee,
whispered words of good intent
squeeze-drying all the energy spent.
And in the end a poem pure,
sung like a chant both clear and sure,
that even to this day resounds
from the depths of the deep heart’s fertile grounds.


(begun ca. 2009, finished ca. 2012)

For more about the poem, see notes.

 

Upon A Tree

I cast my gaze upon a crooked tree
and run my eyes over its withered,
sun-burned skin.
I cannot tell how old it is.
Above its faded, scoured waist it forks,
two weather-sculpted limbs emerge.
How motionless its body broken, how
green the spring around it.
I suppose that it is dead
this headless shape of wood.
Within, the sap lies still, stiffened
by unsoft time that lays to waste all majesty.

Below, perhaps, away from prying eyes like mine,
dendritic roots spread out in spidery webs;
entombed within the quiet of the earth
they patiently await new birth.


(written ca. mid 2015)

For more about the poem, see notes.

An Afternoon’s Reverie

Turn the heavens upside down,
see the sun spin on the ground.
Watch the moon play on the sea,
see the waters circle round
and Indra* topple from his throne,
fall at Vishwāmitra’s* feet;
and thousand-hooded Sēsha* arch
his yogic body forth to meet
boy-Krishṇa* and his singing flute.


(written ca. mid 2015)

For more about the poem, see notes.

Glossary:

1. Indra (in-draah): The king of the Gods, who lives in swarga (swur-gaah), or heaven.

2. Vishwāmitra (wish-waah-myth-raah): A king who through mighty tapasya (heat-radiating meditation) attempts to become a rishi (poet-seer) of the highest order. The puraa-s (tales of Hindu mythology) relate an interesting story where Indra (with the help of the rishi Vasishṭha) and Vishwāmitra duel; a duel that ends in a stalemate and leaves king Trishaṅku suspended between the earth and sky.

3. Sēsha (shay-shaah), also known as Ādisēsha: A fabulous thousand-hooded serpent of Hindu mythology on which Vishnu – popularly considered the “preserver” among the trinity of Vishu, Shiva and Brahma – and his consort, Lakshmi, recline. Sēsha himself lies on the ಕ್ಷೀರಸಾಗರ, or kshīra-sāgara, the Ocean of Milk. (cf. Jörmungandr of Norse mythology.)

4. Krisha (crish-ṇá): A most popular deity in the Hindu pantheon. His boyhood and youth are supposed to have been spent in Vrindāvan, where he passed his time caroling on his flute and flirting with the adoring gōpi-s (cowherdesses).

 

A Prayer For Those Who Remain

Let death be like the chocolàte
that fálling bitter on the tongue
swèetens into jaggery.
Let death be like the spreading light
that fáding in the windy storm
flòwers up into the sky.
Let death be like the lotused lake
that wílting in the dusty drought
retúrns in a flood of rain.
Let death be like the paddy field
that drówning in a tidal high
ríses as the hárvest’s grain.


(written ca. late 2015)

For more about the poem, see notes.

 

One Autumn Evening

I fell asleep upon the earth
lighted by the morning sun;
when I awoke, it was evening,
the horses of the sun were gone.
I rubbed sleep from my sleepy eyes
that I might watch the colouring light;
then suddenly it was upon me,
the blue, the black, the sacred night.
It spread itself across the sky
like the bird that is always free;
it moved like a ghostly whisper
from autumned tree to tree.
The ripened leaves were giving back
their burnished-twilight-flare
and the fires of the evening stars
had lit the aqueous air.
I remember as I slept again
the fragrance of the furlèd flower;
above the earth, beneath the sky,
rejoicing in the magic hour.
The sun came up next morning
as on unnumbered days before;
but I awoke with a shiver
as though on a cold, cold shore.


(written ca. early 2010, revised ca. 2012)

For more about the poem, see notes.

 

Fire and Rain – A Jugalbandi

Raag Deepak

The fláme – and it was no còmmon
fláme, but rather Agni incarnáte –
rose róse as the music fell
from the sínger’s sweltering lips.
Insìde, the furnàce of his throat
was alchemizing air to góld-
mùsic of dìvíne degree;
and stìll the fire róse and róse
around the singer’s blazing throat
and limb by limb encovered him
in whose one eye was couched death
and in the other rhapsody.

Audio of “Raag Deepak”:


(written in 2015)

Raag Mēgh Malhār

Fall fall fall fall and falling fall
and falling fall again.
Drink all the seven seas and fáll
for my fáther’s filled with flame.
Fall for my song, fall to my plea,
fáll for my father’s life
depends on me
and I depend on you.
Fall waterfall and flood this fire,
fall fight and fill the flame.
fall fall fall fall until my father’s full
and the flame no more remains.

Audio of “Raag Megh Malhar”:


(written in 2015)

Glossary:

1. Agni (ug-nee): The deva associated with fire in Hindu mythology. The Sanskrit word also simply means ‘fire’.

2. Rāga (raah-gaah): Roughly, a sequence of swara-s that together form a melody. Raag is how it is usually pronounced in the north of India.

3. Mēgha (may-ghuh): One of several words for ‘cloud’ in Sanskrit. Mēgh is how it is usually pronounced in the north of India.

4. Swara (swuh-raah): One of the seven notes of the Indic musical scale: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni.

5. Jugalbandi (jugal-bun-thee): Used to describe a Hindustani classical music duet. The duet can be either vocal or instrumental. Accurately, this does not so much begin as a jugalbandi as it becomes one.

Context:

Raag Deepak and Raag Mēgh Malhār:

An (apocryphal) story tells of how the medieval Mughal emperor, Akbar was tricked into ordering Tānsēn – a legendary Hindustani Classical musician – to sing Raag Deepak, a raga capable of producing fire. A sublime singer, Tansen knows that doing so will mean setting himself aflame; so he asks for a month’s time and teaches his daughter to sing Raag Mēgh Malhār, a raga capable of bringing rain.
On the appointed day at the appointed time, Tansen begins his rendition of Raag Deepak and, as he loses himself in the music, conjures up the expected fire – that begins to circle and engulf him.
On cue, his daughter – nervous and quavering – begins her rendition of Raag Megh Malhar. For a time it seems as though Tansen has not taught her well enough, but just as the flames begin to singe him, she breaks through, the skies open and down pours life-giving water.

The Evening

The evening spreads across the sky,
the sovereign sun secedes,
the jamboree of day recedes
into a symphony
of warbling, squabbling, burbling birds.

The ether’s yellow light is lost,
the coloured flowers fade
into a thickening twilight shade
pregnant with a hóst
of secret, soundless mystery.

And soon the night will gather up
all mortal and immortal life
into her dárk and lovely lap,
from where again will rise the sap
of day, and stréaming sunlight say:
‘drink deep, drink deep of my golden cup.’


(written in mid 2015)

For more about the poem, see notes.

Upon The Sun

There are so many ways
to sit out in the sun.
You could paint your toes
and stretch your legs
until the sun reflects off them.
Or you could lie upon your back
upon a lighted sward of grass
and hold a book
up to the fire of the sun.
Or you could turn the other way
and rest your stomach on the ground
and feel the sunlit blades of grass
grow damp beneath the favour of your skin.
And then, of course, you could
spread leopard-like out on a branch
and lick the air with a sleepy tongue.
But perhaps best of all would be
to sit wild-eyed upon some timeless tree
and dream of gliding like a cloud
(growing gradually thick and proud)
before swooping down like rain upon
a dusty and a thirsting earth.


(written ca. mid 2015)

For more about the poem, see notes.

 

She Refuses to Blame Herself

He went there to die, she said;
no premonition of his death awakened me
within the watches of the night
or blood-dyed nightmare make me clutch
his smiling face, his goodbye-waving hand.
(Her voice was steady as the wind,
her eyes were dry with tears.)
No dream of Yama and his noose
upturned my dreamless sleep
nor did I see my daughter kneeling,
fatherless, broken by grief.
And on the evening of his death,
(the candle of her voice fell low),
no bullet bit my breast
nor shrapnel singe my woman-heart.
I loved him as a woman and a wife:
I love him still, but he is dead
and I must live.


Context:

In 2005, there was a wholly unexpected “terrorist-attack” on the IISc campus in which I lived. There were several injuries and one life was lost, that of a man who was there just that day for a conference. I remember mention being made of his wife and young daughter – and wondering what it would be like for his wife when she heard the news. Written some ten years later, this poem considers the matter.

P.S: This is one of my favourite poems of mine.

For more about the poem, visit notes.