Back  I  Portal  I

K. Ayyappa Paniker

The Night of the Ghazals

1. Sunflower Face

What grief is melting in your thoughtful eyes,
You with the face of the Sun? What song of sorrow
Is wafting in your tremulous lips? But perhaps
This song and grief are not yours, in factómaybe,
I am passing on to you the fire in my chest, although
They suit you too so wellóthis lament of my boat
Crashing in the sea at your wharfóI did so sway
The billows that it might not enter your ears---
When a solar system stops its momentum on its own,
When the dry Ganga of the Milky Way burns up
Like a sandy channel and writhes for water,
O Sunflower Face, will you come and open your ears
Like a whirlwind that tears away the roots of my vowels
And consonants, which keep flowing like a mere song?
Till now I havenít drawn even a little painting for you,
Nor have I composed a simple light song for you---
And yet you have guarded the western gateway of kindness,
And guarded this sea-wharf, where my corpse is floating,
As well as the pain I have cherished like under-water fire

O Sunflower Face, words of curse are indeed on the tip
Of my tongue, sharp words seething with hellish torture,
I shall not sprinkle these singeing words on anybodyís head,
Lest they should boomerang some day or other, and so
Thinking, I remain dumb even now, as always.

Look! These sea waves sometimes in the morning lie
Without motion, their vast expanse seems like a bed-sheet,
The folds will not move, they may beckon as if to tempt
Us to lie on them, hearing the call we may take a close look,
And if our eyes are O.K, in that stillness we shall learn
The thirst of the sea, the depth of the sea, the orgasmic spell
Of the sea, the cruelty of the sea, the hypnotic electric measure
Of the sea. The seaís measure is the glory of the strong goddess
Who saved the threefold powers that lay crying and crawling
In the primordial waters of primal energy at the time of Creation.
As we invoke and awaken that Sea-mother, giving her life,
Installing her figure drawn on the floor, as it were,
What is it that you whisper into my ears, strange!
That this is the truth, that this alone is truth, do you
Whisper into my ears? Touching my cheek, you
Pour into my ears this electric charmóthe spell
Of the wounds of love and affection and sweetness,
That assumes a form and pulsates here on the floor.

Sunflower Face, I am not just drawing your picture
In colours---but merely trying to mark a figure
In my home courtyard with the fresh powder of
This lengthening moonlight, just for nothing at all---
Only trying to draw a new world, just like that---
Seeking colours, singing the colours. Accept this,
O Sunflower Face!

Surajmukhi, the top of your head, your forehead,
Your eyebrows, your eyelids that close and open
The temples of your eyeballs, letting out a glow,
Your eyelashes that bend down along with them,
Your cheeks, bulging underneath, full of blood,
Your nostrils that keep humming the scent of birds,
Your lips blossoming below, your teeth in between,
With a little sheen, O Sunflower Face, as I inhale
The magnificence of your face, I can hear
The petals of your opening flower bud,
The gentle smile that breaks into an awareness,
And the rays of light that radiate from it, far and wide.

Is it the early soft vernal season of the rustling bosoms
Is it the hard winter of the rubbing hands and palms
Or is it the summer when toes begin to tinkle:
Tell me, Surajmukhi, how do the pictures drawn by
Your Sun turn into such strange, unexpected visions?
The thoughts that arise from your honeyed naveló
The cryptic magic formulas, the aphorisms, axioms,
How do they become the enveloping black hole enclosed
Within the very structure of this overarching universe?
Is it the fertile autumnal splendour of your cool thighs
Or the arrival of rains recalled by the roots of your arms
Or the full spring that puts out tender shoots from head to foot
Or the cycle of six seasons, stirring the mind and the body alike?

Is it not so, when the figure is lit up by the sprinkling of powders
Of different colours, isnít it? Are they not the fulsome bosoms
Of motherhood, arenít they? Are they not the sacred weapons
Carried in her sixty-four hands, arenít they? Are they not the stars,
Inexhaustible in enumeration, taking the shape of truth in her breasts?
Are they not sprouts of adolescent hopes thrilled at every touch?
Are they not the desires arising from the flow of fresh fragrance?
Clearing the yard of loose sand, making a circle, smearing it
With cow dung, decking it up as holy ground, the hand of joy
Picks up the bowl of powders, and sprinkling them on the ground
Draws something, writes something; is it not the swing and sway
Of strings of waves blossoming among the stream of colors,
Isnít it? The bloody points of spears are aimed at some and
Whirr fast, and blow the conch, with vigour and straight upward,
Arenít they? Hearing it, unable to bear it, do they not seek shelter,
Donít they? There comes the Kolam, enlivened rage, there comes
An awakened world, a resurrected time, there comes, there comes
Interiorized in wrath, beaming forth a tender smile, singing of colours,
Wiping off the colours, entering the grove to put on grace,
There comes the Sunflower Face!

2. The twilight hour keeps playing on the santoori

The twilight hour keeps playing on the santoori,
O honey bride of Greece, tell me now your tale of love!

Olive branches sway and swing in the breeze
That reaches here, blowing across the Mediterranean,
And the breeze that tastes the green of the sprigs
May still have one more tale of love to tell,
And the sea is on the look out for waves of ears
To listen to the love tale of the honey bride of Greece.

Speak to us about your fancies born in the days
That faced the ups and downs in the love affairs
Of the earth's adolescence, long before we began
To measure the duration of time and distance.

Tell us the tale of how the wick of envy was kindled
Since the day you were wedded to the lord of Sparta,
You who were born as the daughter of Leda whom
The god of gods once ravished in the guise of a swan

Recount to us the old tales of illusory Helen,
Whom witless Paris carried off and heaped praises on.
Although the apple that he gave to Aphrodite
Grew into a war that lasted full ten years,

Dig up here, where the islands of grapes,
That pour forth wine afresh into the households
Where five thousand years bow down in homage,
Ripen again and in their epics and legends as well,
The islands, the islands, the islands of freedom
And goodness, the poets and the birds celebrate.

The twilight hour keeps playing on the santoori:
Tell us your tale of love, O honey bride of Greece!

3. The vision of the seasons

The winter is humming something:
Is it for nothing?
Does she say that spring will never
Come again?
Do the summer hills put on a bark
With withered grass?
Do they dream that when the rains come,
They bring sheer joy?
Is the autumn or the glow of transition:
A memory slip?
Will everything at the end turn into
The corpse of a late winter?

4. Whatever happened?

What happened?
To the land of Oedipus tragedy is nothing new.
Do the gods of the Olympus still thirst for war?
Do they try to hypnotize
The cattle-rearing youth
By displaying the neutron bomb?
Remember the time before Alexander's
Expedition of triumph?
Remember too the cursed centuries
That followed?
Will Agamemnon ever come back?
Kill him if he does.
Will Clytemnestra be a party
To the murderous act?
Kill her outright, if she is.
She screams, the sister
Of the son who killed his mother
Who had killed her father--
That scream reverberates over the sea
And on the hill.
When the night shrieks,
The tongue splits.
When the murder cry is heard
It splits the ear.
O Hellas that seeks to be reborn,
Hellas that had once left her husband for good,
And, having had enough of it,
Now returns from her lover.
To blind Homer
You are still the beloved daughter.
Penelope welcoming Odysseus
Who had sailed home in the gentle wind.
The dog still remembering his master.
Where have they all vanished?

5. The prophetess

While men keep going to Delphi
To learn about the hidden future,
I should have been a hill
By the roadside covered with snow.

On the branch of a tree where leaves
Wither in the heat of the burning Troy,
I should have been a bird
With the spring crushed in the parched throat.

By the side of the master sage
Who drank from the cup filled with hemlock,
I should have been a night
Cursed by his disciples filled with grief.
I should have been the fate
Endorsed by the master who welcomed the grief.

As the centuries gallop by in a chain,
Their hoofs beating hard,
I should have been the cross
Carried by Poulose to Corinth.

As the end of the era collapses and falls
Somewhere on the Byzantine highway,
I should have been a palm-leaf note
Wrapped up in a dirty rag.

6. Zorba sings

Zorba is singing

He dances
He drinks wine
He sings again
Plays on the santoori
With his hand on the shoulder of the twilight hour
Zorba sings

He drinks wine
He sings again
Inhaling the scent
Of the night's breast
He drinks
Zorba is dancing

Smeared all over
With the fresh hue of the dawn
Zorba drinks
He frisks and pranks
With the different wines
Of the different isles
Zorba sings
Plays on the santoori
Athens is singing
Sparta is singing
Lesbos is singing
Delphi too is singing
All the islands
Are dancing
The Mediterranean
Is drinking wine
Climbing over the waves
The little breeze swims
Zorba is singing

No colour of virtue
No stain of sin
Zorba sings
Gone are the Turks
Gone are the Romans
Gone are the Persians
Gone are the Germans
Who will come next
Is not known
Whoever comes
We shall drive him out
We shall keep
To the path of truth
Crying so, possessed,
Zorba sings

When it grows dark
He plays on the santoori
He dances
He drinks wine

Zorba is singing

7. The elections

White on black is dirt
The whitewash leaves a patch
Washing linen is nuisance
Don't be upset, O leader!

Is there gold in the hiding place
Is there a place for playing kids
Do you remember waiting for
The autumnal moon and sandal paste

Is it trout that's caught in the net
Is it salmon outside the net
Don't you need anything in hand
To wager when you cast the net

It is election time, election time
O come, do come, dear voters
The power that once upon a time
You appropriated among yourselves
We want you to transfer to us
So we ask for your votes
If you give us your votes
Democracy will triumph here!

8. A glass

A glass for religious rituals
A glass for philosophy
A glass for the gods now dead
A glass for the statues that never die
A glass for the rising pillars looking for a roof
A glass for the politicians of the Syntagma Square
A glass for the never-ending processions
A glass for Yanis Ritsos
Waking up from jail memories
A glass for Odysseus Elytis
Lamenting for Helen

O the endless range of hills
That turns on their back in nightmares
Listening to battle drums for centuries
How many centuries you had to smoulder
In memory of Alexander who went
To annex empires, brandishing his whip
Apollo who plays on the strings
Athena who teaches tantrums
Artemis the family planner
Aphrodite with Cupid totting his handgun
They say the time of the gods is gone
The newly elected gods have already arrived
Export models.
In the international conspiracy,
Hellas, your turn also has come
Today it is full moon in Piraes
A full moon each
In the sky, on the land, and in the sea
On the blushing cheeks
Of the wine-drunk bride of Greece
The irreverent wind weaves a spectrum
Today we forget legend and history
Today we sink into the presence of the Present
We have discovered each other
Both of us are the ancients.

9. Sappho's dirge

Looking at the Pleiades
Poetess Sappho sheds tears
Do the Pleiades ever know
That a friend here is waiting for them
Magic and marvel fill the green isles
That throb like the rosary of the sea
The spark, the dream, and the sea-speak:
Surging and surfing over the waves of Time
Fighting and fighting, the men are in ruins
Still they are beating the war-drums again
Divorced and distempered the women in huts
Are distressed without enough drinking water
They shout there is no place at home
For those who do not return to work at home
We shall never clear their debts
We stand only for ourselves hereafter

Watching the Pleiades
Sappho sings her tears
To listen to the dirge of long waiting
The Pleiades come down

10. Father and mother do not speak to me

Father and mother do not speak to me
What about the younger brother?
He minds his own affairs
Let the next birth be in India
I should like to believe in rebirth, but . . .
Don't you go to the stadium and the tagora?
There are enough of American tourists there.
Their cameras are twinkling all the time.
They must have forgotten to take their eyes.
Why are you so sad today?
You saw Aravindan's "Pokkuveyil," didn't you?
Good to learn that there are such people here and there.
Do you know these extremists?
It seems they are more imaginative.
Why so lonely in Athens where twenty-five lacs live?
Maybe, because there are so many.
Athens, Athens, you too drink foreign wine?
Everything is business, Sir?
Who are you?
Athena or Aphrodite
Hera or Artemis
Zues' Ganymede
Or a shepherd girl
In the villages that still survive?

11. The dawns pause, playing on the santoori

The dawns pause, playing on the santoori:
Tell us your tale, O tragic bride of Greece!
The Sol that wakes up from the Aegean Sea
Climbs over the peaks of Mount Olympus.
Like an aeon has passed by the night
That blended long grief and entertainment.

Scoop out at once a cake of cheese from the moon
That has reached the hill-top and will soon fade away.
The tourist who comes tomorrow should see
The dark patch left by your scooping out.
The disciples of Pythagoras will come and weigh
And tell us the exact weights and measures.
What is of value to us is whatever is left
After the "counting" of all that are countable.

What sights have we seen that fail to catch the eye?
What songs heard that the ear cannot catch?
What unmeasured distances have we traversed?
What sins gone through, not encountered in Eden?
What pains unknown before have we taken on?
We have conceded, let them be whatever they are.
Now that we have learned that life is not meant
To be spent on reflections over past sorrows,
Please, go on playing nonstop on the santoori,
Until the dawn arrives that brings joy,
Until Zorba sings on the shores of twilight.

Horse Play

Four gallant horses
galloped forth.

One was white, one was black,
one was red, one was brown.

One had four legs,
one had three,
one had two,
and the fourth had one leg.

The one-legged horse
said to the others :
the time for dance has come,
sweet friends,
let's dance on a single hoof !

All of them liked the idea,
and the dance begain.
The four-legged horse fainted outright,
the three-legged horse slipped and fell,
the two-legged horse limped to a fall :
only the one-legged one
danced on and on.

Translated by the poet


Visualized by MetaNym