Here a talking man is sleeping,
His arms akimbo, feet in the air.
Then were wild gesticulations,
Sweat on brow, fire in the eyes
Now vacant and unconnected.
He no longer exists in space
But he had happened in time
Whatever begins shall remain.
I can feel Ramachandrarao in the air.There he is, wildly gesticulating and making a science point or two.Yes .It was science that primarily bothered him but more by way of an overwhelming obsession with detail. He has still not gone from amongst us:his absence is felt as though it was just a presence and not a lack of it.
Mandsaur does not boast of any ancient temple or fort ,while the town dates back to the Ramayana times .Ramayana times is of course speculation arising out of the shared consciousness of the local people who believe that their town was where Mandodari, Ravana’s wife belonged and Ravana ,although disliked as a megalomaniac demon king elsewhere in the country,is loved and respected in Mandsaur. Poetry had been hard to come upon but in the end I coaxed a poem out of my experience in the temple of Pasupathinath which was replete with myth and local lore.
Poetry is late
Poetry is now the breeze rustling in the tree
After the temple tank’s mossy stillness.
On consciousness had luminously arrived
The phallus god, in brown beauty- hues
And cyclical eight faced phallus ,in turns,
Tranquil-white and angry-red in stone eyes.
Polished now as God ,a washer man had used it
In rhythmic beats, all for beating laundry.
We have our myths, carefully polished
Over Time’s washed stones of the riverbed
Our accumulated minds enormously meshed
As a haystack of shared consciousness.
Our gods have uneasily existed all these days
With spirits who have to be driven out
From darkly lonely houses and fearful men.
On the hillock pallid ghosts come haunting
In moonlit houses amid systolic blood-chants
You know our god is fear ,not rain’s beauty
Or lonely jungles with the fall of cascades
I keep thinking, while my glass eye twitches
For brown beauty and pixelated praise.
Disjointed and derelict images
Fuse into my flowing consciousness
A dimpled beauty selling hotel space
A nest-builder mother-crow pecking
Green young mangoes hanging
Alongside April’s burning morning sun
Suddenly a kurta-clad grey-haired woman
Bursts upon the conscious with abrupt violence
Her comforting presence in the airplane
Complementing,by her side,another woman
Who is sleep-walking,on her way,
Her head in her hands,to take charge
Of a mere body which once throbbed
In the deepest recesses of her own body
Disparate images , wide apart in time ,
Flow into my sleep and then out of it
Sometimes straying into my wakeful self
In Kolkata for a two-month stay ,I began with images I had carried with me from Hyderabad ,the images of a colleague’s tragic loss of a son to the waters of a Yamuna canal in Roorkee .Not wanting to himself bring back the body of the twenty year old son to their Hyderabad home this gentleman gave the task to the mother who had to travel all the way to Roorkee with another female colleague ,her head swirling in misery at the thought of having to take charge of the son’s body.
I have always tried to re-live my life of a six-year old hesitatingly entering the world,the life of the first school days because the thought of it has filled me with unexplained happiness. Then ,one day,I tried to fuse together the disparate images and sensory experiences which existed then in my mind, as recalled today,to make a poem :
The midsummer tin-roofed alphabet-school
Burst with thirsty crows and earthen pots
Long-gowned smoky-eyed phantom-teachers
Guided tiny fingers along chalked letters
The water glistened telltale in the bottom
Waiting for the crows to bend and breathe
Deeply over their gently moving reflections
The pebbles would take long time to drop
In the meantime a squeezed citrus leaf
Mingled its delicious smell perfectly with
The lazy crow’s caw on the branches
At the altar of the church I tried to find
The fragrance of my life’s beginning
In the sandal paste and burnt incense
Our pond smelled of the aromatic chemistry
Of wind over water and long lotus stems
At midnight dark burglars made oval holes
In the neighbor’s house with a shovel’s thud
In the afternoon scary policemen arrived
Hand-in-hand with ebony-backed thieves
The ghostly tamarind brooded in the night
Little tomato plants shone red in the corner
Our petite pig-tailed girl played peeved wife
On long summer nights the circus band played
The stars flickered in the chinks of the tent.
I loved to talk to rolly-polly Rajeswari whenever I used to come to Ichapuram during the college vacation. She made such fine upmas for me full of microscopic mustards . I sat looking into her eyes on dusty evenings as she cut her tomatoes for the evening’s dinner . She did not love her husband who was such a fine husband, albeit advanced in years, and a fine printer . It was such an impossible situation , her husband being several years older than her and with nothing between them except polite conversations about what she made for the evening dinner. She wanted him , however, in her own way ; he needed nothing from her except watch him silently as he sat on the floor eating his dinner. She looked forward to my visits because she wanted to watch me eating her upmas . It was funny the way the whole thing worked out . She wanted her husband ,sometimes ,to tell her that he needed her as also tell him that she wanted a baby from him . It was a no-win situation because he wanted to tell her that it did not really matter if she did not need him .
Their destinies together unfolded as both sat dusting thousands of worn out print heads which they did not need for any current print job. For the first time I experienced the utter futility of human communication :
“Her upmas were so delectable
Albeit with just a tinge of sadness
Her mangalasutra had a thread of black
Which rose and fell as though it was gold
Her eyes were pools of sad knowledge
Which brimmed over kajal-lined contours
Her tumescent tummy bulged with
Imagined babies not one but two or three
One would blame it on flatulence
Induced by late night indulgence
Her man was no prince riding on a white horse
He was a fine printer nevertheless
Who had a way with lithographic typefaces .
So that is that. The jasmines in her hair
Shone against the darkness of her back
She smiled like a princess from among
Worn out print heads and squeezed out ink-tubes
What if the printer is on forty-wrong side
He was a fine husband and a caring friend
(Rajeswari ,have you taken your B-complex?)
At his age shyness didn’t become him
He wanted to tell her what lay encrypted
On the flatstones of their foreheads
(The lettering wore off due to ravages of time)
He shared a printers affinity with Brahma
One thing emerged very clearly and unmistakably
The patter of little feet could be heard distinctly.
Her husband could never tell her this
His drooping eyes said it all , however.
How would she know that a few years later
The whites of his eyes would focus on her
And the horror of it all dawned on her
He , the expert proofreader that he was,
For once misread the inexorable writing
On the tombstones of their destiny ..”
One day her husband came home excited full of news of a new printing contract. His eyes flashed in excitement although the new contract brought no promise of immediate monetary gain to him personally. Rajeswari looked at him with inexplicable disinterest. He wanted to assure her that everything was fine between them .But where is little Krishna the patter of whose little feet could still be heard amidst the din of the printing machines ? I remembered the shadows that played on the mud walls of the Sompeta house as the petromax light hung to the roof waved gently in the breeze . When it rained little rain-insects hovered in a luminous halo around the light and their exaggerated shadows played on the mud-walls .
Taraknath ,the well-read Union Leader who had risen to the top post of the All India Bank Union General Secretary had a brilliant record of a leader with a vision .At the end of his career he could not carry everybody with him and he had an uphill task in keeping his flock together.Then ,one day,while making an impassioned speech to his Tirupati followers he clutched at his heart and collapsed in the meeting itself. I looked at him in Hyderabad staring through the glass casket in which he had been placed to enable people to pay their tributes to him.
The death of a leader
Fight to the finish ,whose?
He frowns from the frozen inertness
Of the flower-laden glass-casket
Yesterday he clutched at his heart
Trying to make his point
He never made it anyway.