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Bibhu Padhi

The Going To The Temple

How shall we begin ?

We shall carry
long-thought-out ways

to find a thing,
name a quiet loss.

We shall collect
the milkwhite flowers

from our doorsteps;
in due time

we shall make them shine
with our morning sicknesses,

prominent headaches.
At the feet of the dark goddess,

we shall make them hold the pains
we've known and endured.

We shall turn our cloud looks
into intelligible forms,

clean total gestures
of fear and love.

It may not be hard then
to drive all our little efforts

to a reassuring smile,
a cool collected look.

"Bury all the dead.
Your land will turn beautiful once more.

If you happen to meet a voice
that you do not recognize,

then you must realize
that it is mine.

When you arrive here,
we shall invent a together-hour

to settle our differences
and estimate a new deal.

I shall answer all your
hesitations and fears

with a slight glance,
a mere smile.

A neat, stone-cut look
will complete my ritual of touch."

At the crowded entrance
we shall reenact childhoods

that we forget and receive back
repeatedly, remember lost deities.

We've been silent for too long.
Let us seek out our wishes

and arrange them
in their proper order.

The stones shall hear us
and begin to speak.

Let us wash our hands clean
of the cruel daylight,

wipe the acquired and inherited
meanings off our tired faces.

Inside the darkness
they wouldn't matter anymore.

I don't know how I can make it.
Perhaps I'll run down

the large steps to her smile
and make it my own.

Small Wants

Nothing happens now, except when
I beg to think of the times
when they used to happen.
When I looked forward to the four-anna coin
that my mother gave me every day
and asked me to preserve it for future use.
New clothes were bought for all three of us
three times a year
to make us presentable before
friends, relations and sympathetic neighbours.
On Sundays and other public holidays
our maternal uncle took us
to the rich Naya Sarak Market
in his black Morris Minor.
We ate crisp and hot vadas
at Madhu Sahu's ramshackle restaurant
on the Pilgrim Road (now lost
and perhaps forgotten by everyone
except by the three of us).
Small wants, but they used to matter.

Today, even as the early sun
filters into my room through
the delicate, handwoven Sambalpuri curtains,
I think of them---
old wants that seem to bother no one any longer.
Relaxing on the reed mat spread on our
sprawling verandah on the second floor,
I ask my good wife to bring tea,
watch our old milkman's son bring
my son's milk for the day,
listen to the tireless doorbell ring
for no reason at all.
The familiar postman delivers parcels
from the British Council Library
and the American Studies Research Center,
lengthy letters from my two brothers
and even their loyal wives.
Laxmi, our maidservant, arrives
with her smiling eight-year-old daughter
tugging at her borrowed saree.

I keep myself busy through the day
drinking "matchless Darjeeling tea",
chewing tobacco, listening to words
that lost their edge years ago when
I first began writing the language without a flaw.
I still hunt the places where
hot and crisp vadas are believed to be served,
but accompanied now by my wife
and my rather reluctant four-year-old son.
I still write letters, although
each letter gets shorter
than the one written before.
And, as the long Indian day comes to its end,
my son, his lisping voice
sounding curious and far like the rustle of leaves
through the midnight air,
asks me questions that I cannot answer.

Pictures Of The Body

There're those frank, unadorned pictures
that skip and dance to quicken
what sleeps through my bland wakefulness—

the wish to carry on the body's need
to interact with the unreached secrets
that wait to be broken upon, enjoyed

by blunt, repeated reminders of where
bodies discover themselves most faithfully,
keep on spilling over into each other

without shame or insult, caring for nothing,
looking for nothing beyond now, submitting
to the glued touch, the wish to be rebon.

I'm quite there, where this body might
find itself once again through a never-ending
rite of arousal and compensation.

The pictures dance to a blind rhythm that is
all their own, while I look on, my flesh
pounding hard over its naive inconclusions.

I look away from each one of them from time
to time, expecting nothing beyond their skin,
their wish to be noticed, flawless nudity.

I think I'm learning how they couldn't be
what they are not for me already, how they
belong to a dream that I'd disown.

But I don't know how I sink into this
sleep in the middle of a wholehearted prayer
to be happy with the picture that is me.

They emerge, without much fuss, from under
the low bed, from under the shadow
of intimacy, find me too dumb

and slow to give them what I know
I have, but somehow can't give—
a name for each body, its bunch of toes,

its own breasts and lips. I can't, while they
gather around me in circles, their seductive translucence
playing above a mass of incapacity and sleep.

In the first light, just before
the night's departure, the pictures merge
into a shining brown body that

learns over my sleep and waits for
a word of approval that wouldn't be heard
beyond its lone ear, would indeed be

the beginning of a long story.
I imagine the place where I had met
that face, fail. It looks familiar.

Nimble fingers quietly polish my skin
to their desired shine, shape my flesh
into exact measurements of their need.

It seems I had been touched by them in
yet another sleep, variously, felt them deep
under my skin, where an immovable desire is.

The face draws closer, lips greet lips, shaking
two willing bodies, teeth biting every wronged need.
Light is on the windows. My warm fingers feel

the hard lumps on my lips. And there is that
numb weight of a body that knew only too well
what it wanted from me. This sweat. This heat.

There Are Such Things

'I heard those footsteps again,' he said, returning from our
neighbour's little daughter. 'Following me, falling clearly behind mine
until I reached our safe-looking door.'

Who could be so unsure of my child so that his footsteps could be
heard so close? It is the beginning winter, evening, and the trees are
still, their leaves unstirring.

It couldn't be the wind, I knew. Was it something that my child held so
dear to his heart that it could only accompany him when he was
alone, imagining what it could be?

I told him: 'Forget it. It was merely what you thought it was, nothing
more.' He wouldn't believe it, for his eyes wore slow and candid tears,
a silence

that belonged to the future, disbelief. If only those footsteps were
following me, I could look behind and see that what stood there was
none other than

my father, awaiting a look of love that only my child could provide; or
maybe my grandmother, who always said: 'Take care of your child.
Take care.'

I know how one inherits a look or word of love, how generations stay
at one place and time so they may share each other's company.

But how do I explain to my child this strange relationship of years
which might exist only in a few alien footsteps following him one early
winter evening now?


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