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Balachandran Chullickad

Winter in Stockholm

At the beginning of winter,
At dusk, O cold,
In Stockholm, at Drotningartten,
I saw Death rummaging through some woolens
At a second-hand clothing stall-
I fled in fear.

At the Reed berg Restaurant
On the table, two candles,
Two rosettes of flame
To be snuffed out by a breath
Framed on the wall,
Marilyn Monroe,
Her skirt raised by wind
A fatal beauty raped by death

It was then that I spotted
Strindberg's ghost and old Ingmar Bergman
Supping together at one table,
Adjacent to mine.

I asked Bergman,
Sir, why did you let decrepit Death
Roam the streets of city?
You could've trapped it neatly
In a celluloid frame.

In a sepulchral tone,
Audible only to the poet and the mad,
Strindberg asked me:
Did you visit the last of my homes?
Did you see the bed I died in?

Meekly I answered:
I live in a hotel that bears your name.
I sleep in the bed where you
Breathed your last.

Strindberg said:
In the royal playhouse
Tonight my drama will be on.
Go see it ,
Stop disturbing the old and the dead.
At the royal theatre hall,
A possessed Chryster Henrickson
In the frail humane voice of the actor,
Truth as Strindberg learned,
And in vast despair,
Boom on and on.
"Man has no children,
Only woman has children.
The future is theirs
While we die childless,
O' Jesus meek and mild,
Look upon this little child."

Strindberg, you trap forty years of a disorderly life
Into a dimlit rectangle for two full hours.
I sense it throbbing. can your grip,
Contain it? I sense it's tumultuous throb.
At this darkened auditorium,
Oceans and oceans away,
I remember my wife, my son.

Strindberg asks:
Are you sure your wife belongs to you?
Are you sure you begot your son ?
I reality, who owns anyone, friend ?

I rise and roar:
You're insane totally,

And I hear his guffaw from nearby.
Perhaps it wasn't laughter
Perhaps it was the Baltic Sea
Reciting its moody verse ?
A breeze blew in
chilling clusters of the archipelago.
My heart is pyre,
Nearly burned out,
Warped in embers.

In a coat pierced by bullets
Death sits nearby warming its hands.

Translated by Kamala Das


A disciple asked the tailor:
Sir, what is freedom?
Is it the calf frolicking in the fields?
The bird that flies up to build its nest in the sun?
The train that runs, whistling, north?
The street-lamp the wayfarer in the dark pines for?
A sleep without cares?
Or is it my redemption from the endless
lengths of cloth, the wheel that turns
non-stop and the relentless needle?

The tailor replied:
Freedom is food for the hungry
water for the thirsty coat for the one left out in the cold
a bed for the weary

The word for the poet
the arrow for the hunter
society for the loner
courage for the frightened
death for the eunuch
and a son to perpetuate the family for the married man
arc indeed freedom.

Wisdom for the ignorant
Action for the wise
Self-sacrifice for a man of action
and for the martyr his life
are freedom.

one who stitches not will lose his dream-vision.
There is freedom at the illuminated
tip of the stitching needle.

It is the grain the sower reaps.
The bread for the one who sweats his brow.
The shirt for the one who stitched it.

Then the master resumed his stitching
The disciple, his doubts dispelled,
started threading his needle.

Translated  by E. V. Ramakrishnan


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