Tuesday, June 9, 2009



Thorns are my language.
I announce my existence
with a bleeding touch.

Once these thorns were flowers.
I loathe lovers who betray.
Poets have abandoned the deserts
to go back to the gardens.
Only camels remain here, and merchants,
who trample my blooms to dust.

One thorn for each rare drop of water.
I don’t tempt butterflies,
no bird sings my praise.
I don’t yield to droughts.

I create another beauty
beyond the moonlight,
this side of dreams,
a sharp,piercing,
parallel language.

(Translated from the Malayalam by the poet)

In Delhi’s cold
I recall my mother,
the first warmth
that had enveloped me.

I could not take mother to Kasi,
not even her lullaby.
That remorse keeps a compartment
in every train that shuttles
between Delhi and Benares.

Standing on the banks
of the Ganga with my companion
I thought: I could have brought
mother’s ashes for Ganga.

There was no shortage of ashes,
nor of dead bodies there;
but mother had lived
and died in Malayalam.
‘Ram nam sach hei’ would have
turned her an alien.

Yet the Lord knew her
with her coolness.
Didn’t she hide in that
unoiled matted hair?*
Here, she flows in front of me
Let me wash my feet in her
It may not expiate my sins
But it is cool like affection, soiled.

Reaching home in Delhi
I open the tap:
Here comes Ganga, purified.
How did mother manage
to pass through this pipe?

“O, I took a magic potion: Death.
Now I can take any shape,
can go anywhere.”

I scooped her up in my hands:
And was cooled,
In Delhi’s heat.

(Translated from the Malayalam by the poet)

*Remember Siva hiding Ganga in his tangled hair.




I came bursting open a proverb’s belly
one afternoon of impending rain,
gasping like the salt that leaves the sea
fighting my exile from the dark eternity
of the dead and of gods
screaming against being hurled into
the loveless light of the living.

It was a difficult delivery,
recalls my mother, the labour was long.
How would she know
I had been hiding in my watery chamber
scared, without letting go of the umbilical cord?

I was a blood-soaked riddle, say the neighbours,
and still had only a single head.
Father says I was damp like a swamp,
with that marshy smell.
And sister tells me I was lean
having squirmed out of a folktale.

A huge question fell loose from the roof
suggesting an inauspicious birth.


The vayamp
[1] was tasty.
It was only when mother applied the chenninayakam
to her nipples to stop me suckling
that I gathered there were tastier things on earth.
The kanjiram tree
[3] east of our house
was yet to bear fruit.

Lying in the rosewood cradle
smelling of the fear of generations
my ear learnt to distiguish between
a lullaby and God’s voice,
my eye, between mother’s hair and the night,
my nose, between the boiling paddy’s aroma
and that of my sister’s arrival,
my tongue , between the word
and the sour taste of tamarind,
my skin, between faher’s touch
and the roughness of a blanket.
Mother feared I would turn into a toad
if the neighbours kissed me.
I yearned to go back to water.


Father was a cloud
whose dark back I rode;
mother, a warm white brook
that oozed milk and song.

The parrots knew my hunger;
they told the woods about it.
The woods offered me fruits.
The fish knew my thirst,
they told the rivers.
The rivers flowed into my cradle
and rain fell into my bedroom.

The yakshis
[4] came with breasts
that would never dry up.
I wasn’t there.
There was only hunger. And thirst.

In sleep I rode to my previous births.
I spread like grass and became
a psalm for the colour green.
I flowered like laburnum and became
a lexicon of yellow.
I knew the ecstasy of water
throbbing on peacock feathers and fish fins,
I turned into a leopard
and learnt the grammar of instinct.


One day I decided to stand up.
And with me stood up the world.
I turned around to answer my name.
The world also turned around.
A child beckoned from the mirror.
Behind him was a shadow.
That shadow grew up with me.
He ate what I ate.
When I slept he kept awake
and peeped into my dreams.
When I first looked into the well
I saw him in its open mouth.
He was there with me in all my births.

I was a letter that had fallen off from a word.
It is still looking for its word.
It tries sitting in each word,
and comes away knowing
no word as its own:
In the dictionary, alone, scared.


Serpents, lead me to the daylight
of the rubies in your burrows.
Jackals, carry me
to the nights of your howls.
Let me enter the world of the dead
on the wings of an owl,
let me touch an angel’s wings
riding a rainbow,
let me take off from the back of a swan
and, passing through a lotus stalk
reach the other side of the earth,
let me become a bat, a palai flower,
a well-spring, a conch, a ripe mango.

Just don’t force me to be myself.I am content to be others
I can’t bear the burden of identity
I can’t carry the weight of forms
Enough that I am
the sweetness in the sugarcane,
the breeze that turns
the pipal boughs into clouds,
the raindrops that turn into bells
under the earth.
Enough that I am the birdsong
and the will-o’-the-wisp,
enough that I am
fire, fire, fire.


Then I began walking
crawling out of the damp darkness of rooms
towards the razor’s edge of the courtyard,
rising again to the sunshine’s gold
playing hide-and-seek,
to the rainbows of the butterflies.

Every leaf invited me into its vein,
every flower into its fragrance and honey.
Grass caressed me with its tiny green fingers,
stones told me of the pains in store,
the first rain baptised me
into nature’s religion.

I walked from sweetness to hotness;
salt taught the tongue to spell out words.

Did words come first,
or objects, I can’t recall.
Was it the word ‘light’ that became light?
I went up and down
the winding stairs of language,
chanted new words like mantras
to tame the world.
From the magic lanterns of words
came djinns who could conjure up anything.
With words they created
mountains, oceans, forests,
deserts, palaces and gardens.
Words were my stallions
to roam the world.
From words rose the sun, the moon,
planets, stars, the roc bird,
talking statues
[5], speaking beasts.
Scared of the Sultan’s sword,
words told a new tale each day,
earned a new name and shape in each birth
and became bodhisattvas.
Words became mirrors
to reveal the insides,
became keys to open magic caves.

One day a little index finger rode
the camel of a big hand
and wound its way along the sand
in praise of Vighneswara
Along those crooked lines, later,
came suns, horses, flags, prophets.

Which was the real world?
Which is?


I saw fear
in the stagnant pond wrapped in weeds
in the leaf trembling in the moonlight
in the sand receding from the feet
planted in the sea at night,
in the single footprint on the courtyard.

A boy all skin and bones lay raving
at the height of his pneumonia,
a charm around his neck,
between dreams and the monsoon rains.
His mind roamed other worlds,
leaving the flesh to fever.
It was on that day
that it rained blood for the first time
and the four-o’clock flowers grew fangs.

I returned from death
and heard my mother’s voice choke
while reciting the Ramayana’s aranyakanda.
I heard father,back from the shop
denied the day’s ration, speak of war.
Saw a leper with his fingerless hand
reaching for a shoe flower
to offer a dumb goddess.
Heard an old woman, soaked in rain,
pray to the coral tree
to grow more foliage.
Saw the bluish corpse of my playmate
moving its lips to tell me something.

My infancy had come to an end.
A tree with red leaves and black flowers,
heavy with tempting fruits
shone in the sky with a million eyes.
A horned beast with hooves and a trunk
and seven crowns on its seven heads
rose, soaked in slime,
from the deluge in the paddy fields.

(Translated from the Malayalam by the poet )

[1] A bitter herbal preparation administered to new-borns.
[2] A more bitter potion to stop infant’s suckling.

[3] Nux vomica tree.
[4] Heavenly maidens
[5] the salabhanjikas of the Vikramaditya tales.
[6] The Lord who removes obstacles. The reference is to the Kerala ritual of initiation into the alphabet, the child’s finger writing a verse in praise of Lord Ganesha on the sand strewn on the floor, guided by the teacher’s hand.
[7] The canto in the epic dealing with the life of the prince Rama in exile in the woods.




Who said that waiting is
a railway station in North Malabar?
That a morning in uniform will
arrive there in a coffin?

Who said memory is
a fragrant window opening on
ripe corn fields? That
our bodies grow cold
as the sun grows dim there?

Who said trees have
ceased to follow
wind’s language? That
we must conceal from lilies and rabbits
the news of the death of love?

Who said now moons
will be heavy like
a drunkard’s head? That
evenings will have sick hearts
like a desperate lover’s whispered songs?

Who said we are
running barefoot over red-hot iron
with a fistful of childhood rain? That
we will, at the end, hand over
our keys to the same rain?

Who said men, once dead,
grow younger entering another Time? That
all the birds that vanished at the sunrise
will return when the world ends?

Who said we would
understand everything without anyone
telling us anything? That still
we would not share anything with anyone?

On Wet Grass

That footprint on the wet grass
needs not be death’s;
may be a folksong has gone by.

The butterfly quivering on your palm
has something to tell you.

How the falling mangoes and jasmines
look for your cupped hands
To stop them midway!

Don’t you hear the sea whisper
not to pay back your debts?

Even your dark little room
has a piece of sky.
Everything is blessed:
fish, crickets, sedges,
sunlight, lips, words.

At Times

At times it is good to laugh:
even before you take your life, for,
the sun survives you,
fishermen set their tiny boats once more
on the raging sea,
the drowned man’s clothes learn
to fly about the riverbank,
a man and a woman
blossom into heaven
from a bed of misery,
a boy riding the noon
dreams of caparisoned elephants,
a girl turns into a breeze
inhaling the scent of orange blossoms,
a home-bound bird deposits
four blue eggs and
a star in the twilight,
Sehgal trembles like the moon in a river 1
on the lips of a happy drunk,
a poem slips past a banyan tree
hiding its face behind an umbrella,
a raindrop turning into emerald
on a colocasia leaf remembers
the poet Kunhiraman Nair. 2

Those Who Go

Let them go who want to;
turn your eyes towards
those who remain.
Look into the mirror:
An angel looks at you
from within,whispering to you
in your own voice:
Don’t give up, live.

Listen to silence:
It is an uproar, a cascade
like your beloved
bursting into laughter
stroking her hair backward,
the dance of leaves,
the wind’s anklet,
the song of survivors
from beyond the river,
the new year arriving
with a round of applause,
flowers dangling from her ears.

There is no yesterday,
nor tomorrow; only the doors
of today opening to the sky.
And smells:of wet hay, boiling paddy,
rain-washed earth, elanji flowers,
arecanuts in bloom, cardamom,
serpent’s eggs, the mysterious
secretions of trees and men.

I will not sleep tonight,
nor will I let you.

(Translated from Malayalam by the poet )

1.A legendary Hindustani singer.
2.A Malayalam poet with an intense nostalgia for Kerala’s vanishing landscapes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008




The mad have no caste
nor religion.They transcend
gender, live outside
ideologies. We do not deserve
their innocence.

Their language is not of dreams
but of another reality.Their love
is moonlight.It overflows
on the full moon day.

Looking up they see
gods we have never heard of.They are
shaking their wings when
we fancy they are
shrugging their shoulders.They hold
even flies have souls
and the green god of grasshoppers
leaps up on thin legs.

At times they see trees bleed,hear
lions roaring from the streets.At times
they watch Heaven gleaming
in a kitten’s eyes,just as
we do. But they alone can hear
ants sing in a chorus.

While patting the air
they are taming a cyclone
over the Mediteranean.With
their heavy tread,they stop
a volcano from erupting.

They have another measure
of time.Our century is
their second.Twenty seconds,
and they reach Christ; six more,
they are with the Buddha.
In a single day,they reach
the big bang at the beginning.

They go on walkng restless for,
their earth is boiling still.

The mad are not
mad like us.

(Translated from the Malayalam by the poet)



K. Satchidanandan

I, Zinedine Zidane,
the stranger you feel like stabbing
as the French sun dazzles you (1),
one with a different face and a different build
still hoping in vain to be
one among you,
one who drank molten steel to
cultivate his muscles so that
you might love him
one who ran along sharp-pointed nails
to grow nimble of foot,
sharpened his Algerian gaze
looking for stars yet to rise ( 2)
and his brain by grinding it
on French’s whet-stone and
rasping it with Arabic’s file.

I was shown the red card long ago:
during my disgraceful childhood in that
squalid suburb of Marseille (3)
and my rebellious adolescence.

Pardon me if for eight seconds
the raging blood of my wounded race
hunted down from New York to Gujarat
rushed into my head I bow only for namaz
Pardon me if the tears of my
acid-soaked motherland rose like a
tidal wave to engulf the venomous
heart of my public abuser
Pardon, for having infused for eight seconds
the illusion of the playground with
the bitterness of reality,
for having subverted the soft rule of
the game with the harsh rule of life.

There were no spectators before me,
no cameras : only the wrinkled face
of my mother, all mothers, in exile;
only the last chance history gave me
to avenge every disgraced being on earth
by a single bloodless gesture.

That, pardon me children,
Was Zinedine Zidane’s final header,
his last goal.

(1)Remember Albert Camus’s The Outsider.
(2) Zidane was born to Algerian immigrants.
(3) He grew up in La Castellane, a suburb of marseille in Southern France.