New | Poetry | Ramu Ramanathan

My First Encounter With The Peacock

The peacock,
He comes,
Knocks at the window
I am gazing out of.

Asks me what I am seeing.
I say a talking peacock.
The peacock smiles and asks for beedies.

I don’t have a pack here,
My wife has it, and
She has gone to the movies.
The displeased peacock
Stamps the ground.

Don’t be angry.
I have some potato salad in the fridge.
He says, okay.

I whistle a song
In the orange of the sky.
He eats my dinner.


Poetry | Kunwar Narain (Transated by Dibyajyoti Sarma)

photo by Sashikumar J

from Kumarajiva, a narrative poem by Kunwar Narain
Translated from the Hindi by Dibyajyoti Sarma

[We had such plans. I was lucky enough to meet Kunwar Narain at his home in CR Park on 17 September 2016. He had just completed 89 and his hearing was weak. That did not stop us from discussing poetry, and our favourite poets, Eliot, Yeats, Auden. He had translated almost all the major 20th Western poets into Hindi. He also told us about his trip to Turkey and meeting Nazim Hikmet. The Turkish poet had just been released from one of his jail sentences, and Narain was still a starry-eyed young poet. I can still hear his voice narrating the story. “He (Hikmet) was an imposing personality. He sat next to me and put his hand on my thigh. He had huge hands.”

I identified the awe in the voice because that’s what I felt meeting Narain, hearing him tell the tale. I gave him my book of poems and since he had already lost his eye-sight, Apurva Narain, his son, suggested that I read a few poems from the book to him. I did. And he said he liked them. There couldn’t be a bigger reward.

On leaving, with the promise to meet again, I received a copy of Narain’s last masterpiece, the epic poem (Kavya) Kumarajiva published by Bharatiya Gnanpith. I found the book a tad difficult. A poetic biography of Kumarajiva, the man who introduced Buddhist literature in China, the book tackles deep philosophical questions on existence, life, death and everything in between. But the prologue, ‘In Tathagata’s Company’ moved me beyond words. I read and reread the passages a thousand times until I was ready to attempt a translation. This translation is my humble tribute to the legacy of Kunwar Narain.]
In Tathagata’s Company
from Kumarajiva, a narrative poem by Kunwar Narain
Translated from the Hindi by Dibyajyoti Sarma

I’ve embarked upon a thousand-year journey,
with Tathagata;
we have an eternity together –
on our path we will find who knows
how many cities, how many deserts.

We’ll not stop anywhere;
we'll carry on like the blowing wind.

We’ll leave behind, just a few words –
some reverberation of ideas,
etching on thresholds –
footprints of roving mendicants.

The way trees and leaves soak in
light and air and
carry to the soil
the fertilisers,

the same way will spread
the fire of spiritual ideas – breathing
from flowers to roots.

Digesting ugliness, there will always bloom
the fragrance of beauty in the air,
breaking the walls of darkness,
there will always sparkle joy, and
we will always be visible
in the wholeness of lost past,
sometimes like a star
sometimes like the sun.

Kumarajiva can be resurrected again
the way he resurrected Tathagata;
because no one, Buddha or Kumarajiva,
remains dead.

His was a life of ideas,
which can be experienced any time,
by going to his time
or by bringing him to our time,

the way at one time Kumarajiva
had found completeness,
inhabiting the Buddha’s ideas
in his own time,

the way man inhabits
his memories and past customs
rehabilitating them
in present time.

Every dedicated follower – thinker – artist
draws parallel to the Time where he exists
an Alternate Time of his own.

It is a life at once contemporary
and universal
where resides permanently
the essence of
his ideas and his achievements,
where they grow continuously until eternity.

I, Kumarajiva, am a vehicle of
Buddha’s words, not just a translator.
Through him, I’m a message for myself too,  
interspersed with his message.

With Tathagata’s teachings,
there contain my dedication too.

Wrapped in my achievements,
I too am my Alternate Time
where I’ll endure
even after me — with Tathagata —

the way Tathagata is alive
even after him, in his self-created
Alternate Sub-Time,
even today, with me.

In every moment,
I live several moments.

Time cannot not divided like matter,
like matter, it’s neither whole nor separate.
It’s us with our knowledge of matter that
we divide Time into tiny little pieces.

Whichever epoch I fancy,
I resurrect it like the present day,
and the ones I don’t, I discard them.
            Bringing lifelessness to existence, a conscious being,
            I myself transform into my past, my yesterday,
            my today and my future,
            my eternity.

            It all comes to us,
            through our dreams, our ideas.

This is my present which has arrived after thousands of years,
and it can endure for thousands of years after me,
sometimes ancient,
some prehistoric, sometimes medieval.

With all humility, I invite Tathagata
from his epoch to mine.

Like a book, I open
his epoch in mine.

A lot is hidden in these writings
which are not visible
in the folds of time.

I study the closely-knit
threading of ‘present’, when loosened,
from its holes is visible a light
completely different from the
permanent razzmatazz of today.

Each book is a closed door
opening which I  
immerse into the words
and shower under words’
waterfall of time
which is the time of that language.

I notice
In the beauteous past somewhere,
I’m reincarnated — in some unknown place.

My mind is Jetavana,
somewhere there’s a Shravasti, an Amravati
and Tathagata’s flesh and blood companionship,
a disciple listening to his teachings,
where there’s Sarnath, Sanchi and Patliputra.

            Matching wheels to wheels with the chariots
of Licchavis, Ambapalika rides her chariot —
a Ganika who claims proudly, ‘Today in my
mango orchard, Tathagata will be my guest.’

‘Take thousand cowries, Ganika,
            and give us the pleasure to host him…’
‘I refuse even if you offer a thousand cities.’
The Licchavis heard and her chariot marched on.

I humbly return to Kucha — my own epoch —
where in the caves of Kinjil,
there is a festival in the honour of Maitreya’s return.

Who knows in how many different lives,
in how many different ways, I have experienced
            the different meanings of Home.

Who knows how many times I have experienced
the joys of being a householder
and then the pains of losing the household,
the happiness of setting up a home
and the sadness of witnessing its ruin.

Who knows how many times
I have uttered in exasperation —
I would not build any more homes
and who know how many times
spring up like tides,
mounds of termites on the body,
another home and family.

Who knows how many times
I have uttered with conviction,
like enlightened Buddha —
‘Oh, householder,
I would not allow you to build any more,
another home — this is your last shelter.’

Yet, I am forced to return again and again,
from the other world to this,
carrying in my hands the same begging bowl,

            writings or a torch of wisdom.  


Three Poems | Madhu


I never understood definitions,
or relationships.

I do not know what I will do during the day
or in the days to come.

As the day unfolds, I might catch up
with my old fellows

or end up alone having a cone of ghoti gorom. 
I do not question myself and

I don't have the answers if someone else does.
'What are you doing this evening?'  

I may sit and squat the flies
that hover over me like spaceships.

There is never much on my list
There is never much I can risk.

I know this is not how organised people live.
I never said I was people-friendly.


I somehow manage to fall in love
with the wild, unruly, untamed,
unmannerly, and unloved.

I will write a poem
for you in love
on love

I will barely cast it
in English
as you lie beside me
and hum to me

a poem

in bare Bengali.


There is no remedy for love than to love more. - 
Henry David Thoreau

I'll forgive you for anything
if you have a beautiful smile

I know of a Durga who forgives Mahishasura
when the artist decides to
make weapons for neither.

Sarbojonin pays for it, and
they both undergo
the same heat to get their clay forms.

Tell me how a mother could kill a child
even if he was evil?

Kiss me on my forehead
turn me into a better being.


Poem | Amlanjyoti Goswami

 pic courtesy : NDTV

Elegy Written in a City Apartment…
(‘The plowman homeward plods his weary way, 
         And leaves the world to darkness and to me’- Thomas Gray) 

A shroud hangs over us
All day and
 And the next day               and
Night and it
Refuses to move
The poison curls into our hearts
 And lungs
It seeps deep within us
And we do not know how to

But the doors were closed
              Long ago
      Even before
The air turned
Even before
The eyes burnt sunshine

         I kept half a window
 Open thinking the draught
 Might blow in, a cool spring breeze
That makes one forget the winter
And wakes up sleepy old bones
Tired with all that trouble

No no no
The window only invites
A snake of dust to enter
‘The narrow fellow’ in the air
winds its lithe way
 Sashays down the table
 And settles for good in the near and far corners
And then invites another to move along a fine
Gray line that no one noticed

All calls for help went
We too did not return calls for
‘Something must be done’
Screamed the bellicose television
Long switched off and now just a
Gathering of dust

I show an unusual interest
In numbers
The PPM goes up two hundred points
 When I open the door
For 15
It spikes Sergey Bubka, flips Fosbury
When I near the machine
It tells me I am the polluted one

It will take a long time for the air to heal
Much like ourselves, the edifices we build
With bare hands and stone hearts
And the love that pours out of our
Hearts, brains, lungs, tiny fingers…

They take a long time to grow…

Finally, we hope, on the seventh day,
That dust will rest.
The air will return to where it came from
Who knows where that is?

If we were a common
Planet human
The air too
clings to our
And shows us

Who we are.


Three Poems | David Prather

via pixabay.com

Bipolar Reality 

I have no time for this,
not for the grass growing too fast
for the season, not for the darkening
shadows of rain clouds, not for the wind that pushes
trees down onto power lines.  I have no time

for appointments or meetings or tête-à-têtes.
I have no time for wars or skirmishes or conflicts
or any disagreements.  I don’t even have
time for the placid surface of a lake reflecting
early morning light, stands

of old wood conifers, and two or three
fishermen barely awake on the shore.
I have no taste for sourgrass or lemongrass
or cattails or dogwood.  I have no great desire
for courtyards and palaces,

for kingdoms and colloquies.  Right now,
I want to litter the world with profanity,
but I don’t even have time for that.
I want to call out the vilest words, cast them
like stones upon the earth until they grow

into mountains.  But I have no patience
for mountains.  I have no patience for hillsides
or valleys, monoliths or graves.  I have no patience
for you or for me or for anyone else,
for that matter.  I don’t want the birds
to sing.  I don’t want the water to flow.
I refuse the rain to fall.  I refuse the earth
its orbit around the sun.  I have
no time for this.  I am nothing,
nothing like you’ve ever known.

Elegy for Elegies

What if firearms were literally appendages of flame,
bones of kindling, tendons of cinders, and an inferno of skin?
Would it be a matter of spontaneous combustion,
an imbalance of chemicals suddenly and immediately
doing the only thing they can?

And what about armchairs, a place to take a load off
made entirely of human arms?  Which is much too horrible
to think about, as I am reminded of the Holocaust
my grandmother escaped by marrying an American
long before

all those Jewish bodies were abused
in all those frightening ways, before all those Jewish souls
were suffocated and sent to other trains,
cattle cars.  Yes, cattle cars, a phrase that makes me think
automobiles in bovine shapes with mooing

sounds for angry divers to wave their middle fingers.
Maybe their ring fingers, digits coiled into symbols
of faith, and loyalty, and infinity, brides and grooms
chopping off their own phalanges, with this ring
I thee wed.

I’ll bet people would reconsider marriage,
especially more than once. But there I go again
with shades of Holocaust, which is almost mythical today
because those of us born after just can’t believe
people could do those things.

 But we know they can.  What if
shepherd’s pie were really made of shepherds?
What if lady fingers were a dessert of flesh and bone?
What if blood pudding…well, never mind.
We take all that gore

into our bodies every day.
And how about handcarts, giant rigs of interlocking
fingers, palms turned up, taking the weight
of more than one could carry?
And what about footpaths?

What about severed feet turned sole up
for us to walk upon, sole to sole, all so
morbid, roads and roads and roads
paved with humanity,
god(s) help us.

This sounds like war.
I mean atrocity.  I mean people set on fire,
their arms flapping into the darkness,
screaming, these angels
racing god(s) know where.


I inaugurate spring with the first cutting of the lawn.
The air is still hard with defeat,
and the garden languishes last season’s struggle
with drought and ravenous beetles.

But today there are fists on every tree,
the blossoming knuckles of the apple
ready themselves for the fight to come,
and the dogwood clenches every bud

knowing there will be blood.  Even the sun has itself
all balled up with frustration.  I can feel its anger
battering the world, mourning
the good sense God gave a goose.

I have never seen war, but I can tell what it does
to bodies and minds and spirits, ghosts who wander the earth
seeking vengeance and justice
and other things no one ever seems able to find.

Daffodils already bow low,
their stunning faces cast down in shame
because they’ve done nothing; nothing, that is,
but the practice of being shameful.

I find the first butterfly of the season frantic in the shed,
nervous as a refugee stepping into the light.

Forgive me if I march against you.
Eventually, my hands will open,
the petals unfurl.
And isn’t that astonishing?


Two Poems | Deepa Onkar

via pixabay.com

There it is, the Baobab tree
squatting in the sun, folds of skin shining,
fruit like animals hung on their tails.
Surprise dawns: the Baobab
should not be here; this is my old school
playground. It grows dark, there are crowds.
That singer: I recognize him among
the silhouettes of faces pushing past.
He smiles his thin intelligent smile,
points to the Baobab. I look, and we
wonder, talk, laugh. Inevitably
I come to that sudden swing in the road:
into the shaded afternoon light,
my feet wading into orange and
brown stones. The singer
and the laughter and the hum
of images fade.

In this woken-up light, I know
the Baobab nestles in
the woods among Neem and Peepal
trees, I want to see it meditating again
see that quiet drop of fruit
as if they were unwanted thoughts.
I will meet a better quiet there,
than this room filling up quickly with the world:
outside, the chatter
at the breakfast table rises,
voices begin to eclipse each other.


You like safe sounds
~ Carol Ann Duffy

You like infinities
the sheer bafflement of reckoning
with galaxies, numberless stars
distant suns, wild, coruscating.
Numerals scooting to the edge of a page
textbook definitions: degrees
that map the mind off world’s mundaneness. 
For the flesh to thrill to – the sound
of wind through trees,
like a sea. Long aalaaps, lying on moonlit lawns.
The humming away into the background
when the song ends,
when words are exhausted.